Researchers at Penn State University have found the antioxidants in grain bran known as alkylresorcinols (ARs) might be able to replace synthetic preservatives, according to Food Navigator. Their study was published in the journal Food Chemistry.
The research looked into whether ARs in rye bran can function similarly to chemical preservatives and extend the shelf life of foods that contain fats and oils, such as those fortified with omega-3s. ARs are naturally produced in wheat, rye and barley plants to keep mold and bacteria from growing on the kernels.
"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, co-author of the study and a doctoral candidate in food science at Penn State, said in a university release.
Along with potentially extending the shelf life of certain products, the ARs found in grain bran could possibly help food manufacturers meet consumer demands for cleaner labels, researchers 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," study co-author Andrew S. Elder said. "Consumers want clean labels — they want synthetic chemical-sounding ingredients removed because of the fact that they don't recognize them, and that some of them (the ingredients) have purported toxicity."
According to Innova Market Insights, 91% of U.S. consumers view foods and beverages with easily recognizable ingredients as being healthier. As a result, they're looking for reformulated products without synthetic preservatives and other additives and containing items that are minimally processed.
Whether food companies could use natural antioxidants from grain bran as alternatives to synthetic preservatives isn't clear at this point. According to Penn State, it's tough to find natural ones that function as effectively. However, some products such as oils that don't contain water can benefit from antioxidants, and some — including bread, biscuits, margarine and sausages — containing oil and water may have both synthetic preservatives and antioxidants in their ingredient list.
It's possible food manufacturers would be interested in using natural grain bran-derived antioxidants in their products if their presence didn't significantly change the texture, flavor or mouthfeel. And, as always, cost would be a major factor in switching to natural preservatives.
The Penn State research found the rye bran ARs weren't completely effective. While they kept omega-3 oils from going bad as quickly as they would without any antioxidants, the natural antioxidant alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) and the synthetic antioxidant butylated hydroxytoluene were more effective, researchers reported. However, they pointed out the AR extracts in this study weren't completely pure, and they had used a blend of them with different molecular structures.
Still, this research is encouraging. Given the ever-increasing consumer push for cleaner labels, making formulation changes along these lines might be worth closer investigation — and worth the investment. Food Navigator reported that a 2018 Food Insight online consumer survey found a "strong preference" for no artificial ingredients, and that seven in 10 consumers would forego a favored product for one without them. Of those, four in 10 would pay 50% more, and one in five would pay 100% more.