Preservatives, particularly for foods, have been around many thousands of years. For nearly all of recorded history, humankind has sought strategies for keeping foods safe and edible for longer periods of time. Some of the earliest food preservatives were salt, sugar, vinegar, and spices. Modern food preservatives include such chemical compounds as benzoates, nitrates, sulphites, and sorbic acid.
The shared goal of all food preservation efforts (and those for cosmetics and some pharmaceuticals as well) is to create an environment that is unwelcoming to such microorganisms as molds, yeast, and bacteria. An additional purpose of preservation, says PLT Health Solutions’ senior food technologist Shadi Riazi, PhD, is to retain “the natural characteristics of food.” Shaheen Majeed, marketing director, Sabinsa, adds that preservatives must be “safe and stable, and must not disturb the flavor and palatability of foods.”
Increasingly, natural preservatives are meeting these myriad preservation requirements as consumer demand for minimally processed and clean-label products increases. “Any safe and non-synthetic compound derived from natural sources—animal, plant, microbial—with the ability to enhance the shelf life of food products and retard their deterioration can be considered a natural food preservative,” Riazi says.
Some of the most popular and effective natural preservatives available include rosemary extract, neem oil, citrus oils, citric acid, grapeseed extract, and buffered vinegar.
Sabinsa’s Majeed points to strong demand for natural preservatives in cosmetics and cosmeceuticals as well as in foods. “Most cosmetic products contain good water content, fatty acids, and carbohydrates, which makes them a rich medium for growth of bacteria, fungi, and several microbes. This creates a need for preservatives to prevent spoilage of the cosmetic product as well as skin infections [in the consumer].” Majeed points to a number of preservatives for cosmetics and cosmeceuticals that are of natural origin and “not synthetically manufactured,” including essential oils and such plant extracts as rosemary, cinnamon, coleus, and tea tree.
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All three natural-preservative suppliers contacted for this story point to rosemary extract as being an effective, versatile product for food preservation and even cosmetic/cosmeceutical preservation. “Rosemary extracts provide natural antioxidant functionality that prevents lipid peroxidation of unsaturated fats and oils,” explains Riazi. “They can prevent rancidity and provide color and flavor stabilization in a wide range of food products.” His company, PLT, offers a number of rosemary-based preservatives, including standardized rosemary extracts, specialty rosemary ingredients, and customized natural antioxidant/preservative blends.
Likewise, Sabinsa’s Majeed cites rosemary extract containing rosmarinic acid as being “one of the most promising ingredients in the food industry.” He adds that the extract’s “antioxidant mechanism of action has been reported to be the key benefit in use as a food preservative.”
Kemin counts rosemary extract among its key offerings as well. It and other natural plant extracts supplied by the company “help delay color and flavor degradation,” says Courtney Schwartz, senior marketing communications manager, food technologies at Kemin, “and are label-friendly.”
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Natural-preservative suppliers have also found that combining and blending multiple plant extracts into unique formulations can amplify preservative power over single-source preservatives. “We have found great synergies among our plant extracts when used in combination,” Kemin’s Schwartz explains. “Our unique blends of rosemary and green tea as well as rosemary, green tea, and acerola are more effective at extending the color and flavor of meat and poultry products than rosemary alone.” Additional food applications for these preservative blends include fats, oils, dressings, sauces, and beverages, Schwartz adds.
Shaheen Majeed at Sabinsa points to the value of combination plant-extract blends for preserving cosmetics and cosmeceuticals as well. “With each extract having different mechanisms of action and activity against different microbes, blends with a combination of more than one extract or essential oil act as potent natural preservatives,” he says.
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