It’s no surprise that consumers today want access to clean packaging and natural preservatives, but what consumers don’t know is that natural antioxidants are hard to substitute for synthetic antioxidants when it comes to preserving food. But could compounds from cereal grains like rye bran change this?
Many professionals in the food industry are working hard to try and meet this rising consumer demand, and Andrew Elder, a Doctor of Food Science who worked alongside a team of researchers to find a natural antioxidant at the University of Penn State thinks he has an explanation for this change in consumer preferences.
“Currently, there’s a big push within the food industry to replace synthetic ingredients with natural alternatives, and this is being driven by consumers,” said Elder. “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 have purported toxicity.”
Rye bran, the outer layer of the cereal grain, produces compounds called alkylresorcinols (AR), which may act as a natural antioxidant. But in the food industry, brans and other cereal grains are often seen as a commodity with limited value and mostly used to feed livestock.
Elder hopes to change that. “Our work is focused on identifying new natural antioxidants to extend the shelf life of food and meet consumer demands.” According to the study, cereal grains that produce AR could be the golden ingredient to satisfy this rising need for a natural antioxidant.
“We’re taking something that’s usually discarded in a waste stream and turning it into something useful,” said Elder.
The study found that ARs could act as a natural preservative for omega-3 oils. The research was conducted using a unique process of withdrawing and removing contaminants from rye bran and testing it on preserved liquids containing omega-3 oils.
Omega-3 oils are known to be a challenging substance to work with because they degrade under a short duration of time. Despite this, the fatty acid acquired through fish oils is a popular choice for consumers, and many companies add it to products to boost the nutrient value of their foods. This is why the researchers felt it was an important substance to choose for the evaluation of AR as a natural preservative.
“We’re trying to identify natural antioxidants that are consumer-friendly, safe and effective,” Elder states. “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.”
The results of the study found that ARs successfully acted as an antioxidant compound for omega 3 oils, keeping them from spoiling at their usual rapid pace.
Although this is an exciting find, so far, the food scientists were only able to use AR as a natural preservative through oil emulsions limited to omega-3 oils. When the AR extraction was applied to two other natural and synthetic compounds used in food science, the AR compound failed to have the same antioxidizing affects as it had on omega-3 oils.