A natural antioxidant found in grain bran could preserve food longer and replace synthetic varieties currently used by the food industry, researchers said.
Scientists at Pennsylvania State University in the US studied a class of compounds called alkylresorcinols (AR), which is produced by plants such as wheat, rye and barley to naturally prevent mold, bacteria and other organisms from growing on the grain kernels.
Andrew S Elder, doctoral candidate at Penn State, said,
"Currently, there’s a big push within the food industry to replace synthetic ingredients with natural alternatives, and this is being driven by consumers."
"Consumers want clean labels. They want synthetic chemical-sounding ingredients removed because of the fact that they don't recognise them, and that some of them (the ingredients) have purported toxicity," added Elder.
The researchers wondered if ARs could also preserve food in the same way from a chemical standpoint.
Along with using more natural ingredients, the food industry is also supplementing more foods with healthy oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Adding these healthy oils to foods that normally would not contain them could boost the health benefits of these foods to consumers.
However, omega-3 rich oils have a shorter shelf life, which could cause these foods to spoil more rapidly.
"Most people consume omega-3s from marine sources," said Elder.
"As they break down, they can make the product smell and taste fishy. Consumers then throw these products out and don't buy them again, and this results in an economic loss," he said.
Antioxidants are compounds that slow the rate at which omega-3 fatty acids degrade, preserving their health benefits and preventing food from spoiling as quickly.
While consumers demand more natural ingredients, the food industry has struggled to find natural antioxidants that are as effective as synthetic ones.
"There are not many natural alternatives for synthetic antioxidants. Our work is focused on identifying new natural antioxidants to extend the shelf life of food and meet consumer demands." - Andrew S Elder
ARs have health benefits for humans as well and can help protect against cancer, making them ideal natural additives. ARs also come from the bran layer of cereal plants, which the food industry usually discards or uses for animal feed.
"Bran is often a waste stream. We’re taking something that’s usually discarded in a waste stream and turning it into something useful. "
The team developed a technique to extract and purify ARs from rye bran, then studied how well ARs were able to preserve omega-3-rich oils in emulsions, where two fluids do not fully mix, for example, vinegar and oil.
The researchers chose to study AR action in emulsions because most people consume oils as emulsions, such as salad dressings.
Future work looking at different types of ARs will reveal whether an individual AR type is more or less effective than conventionally-used antioxidants.
"We’re trying to identify natural antioxidants that are consumer-friendly, safe and effective. We hope that one day this work will lead to ARs being available on the market and provide more options for the food industry to use. " - Andrew S Elder
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