Marching to an Era of Natural Food Preservatives
Do Plant-based Preservatives Have Broader Appeal than their Microbial Counterparts?
Microbial hazards, food oxidation, spoilage, and food insecurity issues have acquired substantial economical, ethical, and legal importance in the food & beverage industry. Over the years, artificial preservatives such as sodium benzoate and sodium nitrate have been the norm in food preparation to control microbial food spoilage and extend product shelf life. However, aversion of consumers towards synthetic and chemical food products has been quite evident in the recent past. In addition, researchers, as well as regulatory bodies, are discouraging the use of artificial preservatives due to their negative health impacts. Subsequently, natural food and beverage preservatives obtained from plants, animals, and microbes have gained significant attention for their safety and ‘non-toxic’ status.
Today, use of natural food ingredients is becoming one of the major trends in the F&B sector, as consumers are increasingly seeking out natural food as an assurance of food safety. Unprecedented exposure of the new generation of consumers to knowledge of diet and nutrition has compelled food manufacturers to re-imagine the way foods are prepared, delivered, and ultimately brought to the table. Moreover, foods that contain only natural or fruits and vegetables ingredients are capturing consumer attention and making a mark. In 2018, worldwide sales of natural food preservatives reached approximately US$ 480 million, and Future Market Insights, in its new study, reveals that microbial-derived or bio-preservatives are set to acquire major share of manufacturers’ bottom lines.
Microbial-derived Preservatives Take the Lead
In recent years, the food industry has been facing mounting pressure to completely avoid the use of chemical additives and adopt more ‘natural’ and ‘sustainable’ alternatives. The use of natural antimicrobial compounds, natural antioxidants, and functional microbial starter culture for ‘artificial-preservative-free’ products are considered one of the most successful accomplishments in the food industry.
Salt, sugar, vinegar, and natural acid were traditionally used in food preservation. However, the need for effective food additives to consistently maintain the high quality of food along with greater awareness about of certain health problems associated with chemical preservatives has led to increase in adoption of bio-preservation of food. In addition to contributing to microbial safety and antioxidant activity, bio-preservatives have been heralded to offer organoleptic, nutritional, and health benefits.
According to FMI’s recent research, microbial-derived preservatives account for about half of the total sales of natural food preservatives, and the trend is likely to continue in the years ahead. In order to offer highly efficient products to replace conventional chemical preservatives, preservatives manufacturers are working in collaboration with scientists, research institutes, and pharmaceutical companies. For instance, in April 2019, Australia-based startup – Ingredient Trading Company – launched a range of natural food preservatives, Natalactin Plus and Nisilactin Plus. Developed in collaboration with US food technologist at Georgetown University, Chinese food scientists and pharmaceutical companies, ITC’s products claim to boost the shelf-life of bakery, dairy, and both fresh and cooked meat products.
Plant-based is the New Trend
In recent years, ‘natural’ has been synonymous to healthy eating and living, where ‘plant-based’ label plays an essential role to capture consumers attention. Occasional failure of microbial-derived preservatives and dissatisfaction of consumers with foods containing artificial or chemical ingredients have necessitated the search for effective alternatives. The tide is running against artificial ingredients, and consumers’ quest of safe food with natural ingredients and green taste is on the rise.
Plants are traditionally known for their defensive mechanism against bacterial and fungal attacks. As consumers’ preference are increasing leaning towards green consumerism, food preservative manufacturers are focusing on using plant-based products such as rosemary extracts and other botanical extracts including thyme, sage, and basil. Demand for plant-based food preservatives are gaining significant boost from the rise of ‘vegan’ culture. With exponential increase in demand for food to sustain ever-growing number of population, food production has become a highly-industrialized process and animal welfare conditions are relatively poor. As consumer concern for animal welfare issues become mainstream due to improved access to information, especially through social platforms, food manufacturers are inclining rapidly inclining towards plant-based preservatives.
Are Advanced Technologies Blocking the Way for Natural Food Preservatives?
Although several natural food preservatives are on the market, research and innovations continue in the area. An embrace of R&D had been underway to combine the effects of bacteriocin nisin and natural extracts of herb rosemary, containing high level of antioxidants and natural flavor compounds such as essential oils. In addition, new developments in delivery technology such as nanoencapsulation are likely to increase the potential of natural preservatives for widespread use in the industry. However, significant advances in new technologies for food preservation are set to replace conventional techniques. Rapid adoption of high pressure and pulsed electric field processing for product shelf-life extension is expected to represent a potential threat to the steady demand for natural food preservatives. These technologies are considered superior to conventional processing and preservation methods, as they significant reduce detrimental changes in sensory and physical properties of food. Therefore, natural food preservatives that perform similar or improved functions to their chemical and technological counterparts are here to stay.