Researchers at Penn State claimed that grain bran contains a ‘natural antioxidant’ that could preserve food longer and potentially replace synthetic antioxidants currently used in food industries across the globe.
Currently, there is a big push within the food industry to adopt natural ingredients over the synthetic variants, mainly driven by the consumers, doctoral candidate Andrew S. Elder said. There has been an increasing demand for clean labels, the consumers want synthetic ingredients to be removed from food products due to the fact that they don’t recognize them, while some have purported toxicity.
The researchers examined a class of compounds called alkylresorcinols (AR), naturally produced by plants – including wheat, barley, and rye – to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold, and other organisms on the grain kernels. They wondered if such compounds could also preserve food in the similar manner from a chemical outlook.
In addition to using the natural ingredients, food industry had also started supplementing many foods with healthy omega-3 rich oils. Although such oils provide numerous health benefits to the consumers, they have shorter shelf life, causing the food to spoil faster.
Most omega-3s are obtained from marine sources and as they break down, the food products start to smell and taste fishy, Elder said. Most likely, consumers throw these products and never buy them again, causing a great economic loss.
Antioxidant compounds, on the other hand, slow down the degradation rate of omega-3 fatty acids, thereby preserving the health benefits as well as preventing the food from spoiling as rapidly.
Food industry has been struggling to find natural antioxidants that are equally or more effective than the synthetic ones, to meet growing consumer demands for natural ingredients.
As there are less number of natural alternatives to synthetic antioxidants, the researchers focused their work on identifying new natural antioxidants that are potential to extend the shelf life of food products and meet consumer demands.
According to a review featured in European Food Research and Technology, ARs provide several health benefits such as reducing the risk of cancer, making them ideal natural additives. These antioxidants can also be obtained from the bran layer of cereal plants, usually discarded by the food industry or used for animal feed.
To extract and purify ARs from rye bran, the research team developed a new technique and studied the capability of ARs to preserve oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids in emulsions. They chose to study the action of AR in emulsions as these oils are mostly consumed as emulsions like salad dressings.
Findings of the study were reported online in Food Chemistry, and print edition will be published in January.
The team discovered that ARs did serve as antioxidants in an emulsion, preventing the omega-3 rich oil from spoiling as quickly as they did when no antioxidants are added in the emulsion. When the ARs were compared with two commonly used antioxidants – alpha-tocopherol (natural antioxidant) and butylated hydroxytoluene (synthetic antioxidant) – they were not as effective as either the natural or the synthetic antioxidant.
Although the ARs did not work as efficiently as other antioxidants in several experiments, the team noted that the AR extracts weren’t entirely pure, which could lower their effectiveness. Further work on various types of ARs is required to determine whether a type of AR is more or less effective than currently used antioxidants, the researchers said.