The good news is essential plant oils are already revolutionizing food preservation. With essential oils, food preservation can be kept simple and non-toxic, and can actually benefit consumer health. The natural plant oils possess antibacterial properties that can keep foods contaminant-free and boost the body's natural defense system. The antioxidant properties of some essential oils can give foods a longer shelf life while providing beneficial, antioxidant, anti-aging properties to the consumer.
Let's take a look at some of the various essential oils that can play a huge role in future food preservation:
Carvacrol (Oregano and Thyme)
Carvacrol is the broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent extracted from oregano and thyme. Nearly half of thyme (45 percent) is made up of carvacrol, and up to 74 percent of oregano is made up of it. Science shows that carvacrol releases lipopolysaccharides, obliterating the outer membrane of gram-negative bacteria. It's also an effective weapon against gram-positive bacteria, manipulating bacteria membranes by altering the permeability for H+ and K+ cations. This leads to bacteria cell death. The success of carvacrol lies in the presence of a hydroxyl group in the structure of its phenolic compounds.
Carvacrol is also a powerful antioxidant. By preventing free radical scavengers, carvacrol can keep food from spoiling. It also terminates peroxides, prevents hydrogen abstractions and destroys singlet oxygen formation in a way that can be used to prevent lipid oxidation in entire food systems.
The properties of Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) essential oil scientifically take out gram-positive (Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus subtilis) and gram-negative (Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae) bacteria. Rosemary contains a plethora of monoterpenes which disrupt the integrity of bacteria cell membranes. These strong plant powers include alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, myrcene 1,8-cineole, borneol, camphor and verbinone.
Clove essential oil is a rich source of phenolics. These organic compounds contain one carbon atom attached directly to a hydroxyl group (-OH). This aromatic ring shares the hydrogen atom with free radicals, halting the oxidation of other compounds. In scientific studies, clove's phenolic properties showed high scavenging activity of the destructive DPPH radical. Clove essential oil also tested for high ferric reducing power, with the ability to quench singlet oxygen molecules and chelate metals.
Additionally, turmeric and ginger root essential oils also exhibit free radical scavenging activity.
Improving the matrix of food packaging to repel moisture
Adding these essential oils to foods may change the smell of those foods, since many of these phyto-properties are aromatic. The aromatic compounds may best be added to the food packaging, not the food itself. By utilizing the technology of smart packaging, essential oils can be strategically worked into the packaging to increase the essential oil's abilities.
Essential oils can be added to packaging in ways that improve water vapor barrier properties of protein-based films. For example, when essential oils of ginger, and turmeric are added to fish- and gelatin-based films, water permeability is decreased drastically, protecting the food product from spoilage. By adding the essential oil to the matrix of the food packaging moisture can be repelled, thus extending the shelf life of the product.
Essential oils are the answer for food preservation, not the thousands of synthetics that interfere with the body's natural functions. Simple combinations of essential oil phytochemicals could potentially replace hundreds of food additives and toxic preservatives. Their antimicrobial and antioxidant properties destroy the cell membranes of bacteria. By combining these essentials into the structure of food packaging, moisture can be repelled, reducing spoilage of food across the board.
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