Lycopene is a major carotenoid in tomatoes and its content varies considerably during postharvest ripening. Hence
evaluating lycopene changes can be used to monitor the ripening of tomatoes. Raman chemical imaging technique is
promising for mapping constituents of interest in complex food matrices. In this study, a benchtop point-scanning
Raman chemical imaging system was developed to evaluate lycopene content in tomatoes at different maturity stages.
The system consists of a 785 nm laser, a fiber optic probe, a dispersive imaging spectrometer, a spectroscopic CCD
camera, and a two-axis positioning table. Tomato samples at different ripeness stages (i.e., green, breaker, turning, pink,
light red, and red) were selected and cut before imaging. Hyperspectral Raman images were acquired from cross sections
of the fruits in the wavenumber range of 200 to 2500 cm-1 with a spatial resolution of 1 mm. The Raman spectrum of
pure lycopene was measured as reference for spectral matching. A polynomial curve-fitting method was used to correct
for the underlying fluorescence background in the Raman spectra of the tomatoes. A hyperspectral image classification
method was developed based on spectral information divergence to identify lycopene in the tomatoes. Raman chemical
images were created to visualize quantity and spatial distribution of the lycopene at different ripeness stages. The
lycopene patterns revealed the mechanism of lycopene generation during the postharvest development of the tomatoes.
The method and findings of this study form a basis for the future development of a Raman-based nondestructive
approach for monitoring internal maturity of the tomatoes.