Food manufacturers look to provide a product that tastes good, has a reasonable shelf life and looks appealing to the consumer. In an effort to consistently provide these characteristics, the food industry packs our food with artificial antioxidants to prevent their products to go rancid or change color.
The two most common synthetic food antioxidants used are BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene). These preservatives are widely used in the food industry and also in food packaging, cosmetics, animal feed and petroleum products. Much research has been made to prove that especially BHA, causes cancer in rodents. However there is not enough evidence of their carcinogenicity in humans.
Unfortunately, the use of synthetic preservatives increases exponentially everyday and even though the percentages used are very small, one should realize that if everything we eat includes preservatives, these percentages will soon become much larger in terms of total consumption. It is only a matter of time when we will have a society suffering from all sorts of intolerances and gut diseases due to all these synthetic additives in our foods.
Fortunately there seems to be hope. Nowadays there are plant-based extracts that work just as effectively as their artificial counterparts. One of these natural preservatives is rosemary extract or more specifically, rosmarinic acid.
I first came across rosmarinic acid while reading the ingredients on the label of a hazelnut paste made for gelato production. Being a rosemary lover myself, it sparked my attention and I began to do some research.
Rosmarinic acid is a natural plant-based extract that has antioxidant, antibacterial, antiinflammatory and antiviral properties. This natural preservative can be found in many culinary herbs such as rosemary (from which it gets its name), sage, oregano, thyme, lemon balm and mint. Some companies are producing their brand named rosemary-extracts made from their own rosemary crops.
Iowa State University conducted a research that studied the effectiveness of natural rosemary extract in pork sausage. This study concluded that rosemary extract was just as effective as commercial BHA/BHT antioxidants in fresh-refrigerated and cooked-frozen pork sausage. Furthermore, the rosemary extract was more effective than BHA/BHT in fresh/frozen pork sausage. Therefore rosmarinic acid could be used as an effective natural alternative to synthetic antioxidants. Hopefully the food industry will realize that the products we consume should not only look good, but be good for our health.