Scientific Discovery: Natural Plant-based Food Preservative that Works Better than Synthetic Versions

Exciting news for all those consumers who have adverse reactions from artificial food preservatives:  Scientists have discovered a plant-based food preservative…and it is more effective than artificial preservatives!


 

Highly effective natural plant-based food preservative discovered

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) scientists have discovered a plant-based food preservative that is more effective than artificial preservatives.

The organic preservative comprises a naturally-occurring substance known as ‘flavonoids’, a diverse group of phytonutrients found in almost all fruits and vegetables. The flavonoids created by NTU scientists have strong anti-microbial and anti-oxidant properties; two key traits of preservatives that inhibit bacterial growth and keep food fresher for longer.

In tests carried out on on meat and fruit juice samples, the organic preservative kept its samples fresh for two days without refrigeration, compared to commercial-grade artificial food preservatives.

The experiment was conducted at room temperature (about 23 degrees Celsius) where the other food samples with artificial preservatives succumbed to bacteria contamination within six hours.

The team’s findings were published last month in the scientific journal Food Chemistry – one of the top three research-based food science publications…

The science behind the discovery

Flavonoids are naturally occurring chemicals in plants which are responsible for defending plants against pathogens, herbivores, pests, and even environmental stress such as strong ultraviolet rays from prolonged hours of sunshine.

Found in almost all fruits and vegetables, it is responsible for inducing vivid colours in them. These include onions, tea, strawberries, kale, and grapes.

Though flavonoids’ anti-microbial potential have been reported, they have not been used as a food preservative because they require further processing before they can mitigate bacteria. This is known as ‘prenylation’ — a process involving the addition of hydrophobic molecules onto a protein to facilitate cell attachment — which is not cost-effective or sustainable.

NTU researchers have not only found a way to grow flavonoids with high anti-microbial and antioxidant properties but also in a natural and sustainable manner. They achieved this by implanting the flavonoid-producing mechanism from plants into baker’s yeast (a species known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae).

Similar to how vaccines are manufactured using yeast, the researchers found that the yeast produced flavonoids with high anti-microbial properties, which are not even present in pure flavonoid samples extracted directly from plants…

The discovery comes just in time:  Growing international concern on artificial preservatives

This research comes at a time when there is a growing body of scientific evidence on how artificial preservatives affect the body’s long-term growth and development.

Last month (23 July), the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents some 67,000 pediatricians in the United States, issued an announcement expressing concerns about chemicals used in food preservatives especially for meat products. These include nitrates and nitrites, which can interfere with thyroid hormone production that is essential for the regulation of metabolic processes, and has also been linked with gastrointestinal and nervous system cancers.

“Flavonoids are important natural food supplements with vitamins, but also used as food additives, without causing harm to the human system. This is unlike currently available artificial preservatives used in most processed foods such as aspartame and nitrates, which may cause cancer among other adverse health effects.”

-Dr. Gabriel Oon Chong Jin, a Consultant Medical Oncologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital

So what is the next step?

The NTU research team aims to further develop their findings with the food industry and enhance its efficacy and safety so that it can be used in all packaged food products.


 

Journal Reference:  Kuan Rei Ng, Xiaomei Lyu, Rita Mark, Wei Ning Chen. Antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of phenolic metabolites from flavonoid-producing yeast: Potential as natural food preservatives. Food Chemistry, 2019; 270: 123 DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2018.07.077

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