We hear all the time to avoid nasty preservatives but are there any good preservatives out there? With our industrial revolution fridges and freezers, we should have no need to be concerned about the lifespan of our food anymore. However, with western commercialisation, food is expected to have a longer shelf life, so a new range of synthetic and toxic preservatives have been created.
A preservative is classed as a substance or chemical which is added to foods (or drinks, cosmetics and pharmaceutical drugs) to prevent decomposition or degradation. We need preservation to reduce the risk of foodborne infections via microbial growth or chemical changes in the food (think oxidation – when your apple turns brown).
There are several types of preserving. Chemical preservation is adding chemical compounds to food; Physical preservation means refrigeration, freezing, drying, dehydration or freeze-drying; Smoking foods from burning or smoldering materials such as wood create antioxidant phenols (although current research is showing that smoking may contaminate food with carcinogenics).
Pickling is known as antimicrobial preservation, which is the most traditional and ancient way of preserving foods. When making sauerkraut, lactic acid is produced which is a naturally occurring preservative.
Some common natural preservatives are citric acid and ascorbic acid (otherwise known as Vitamin C) which are classed as nonsynthetic compounds which target the enzymes in fruit and veg to prevent degradation.
Fat content in food can turn rancid quickly so naturally occurring acids such as citric (from citrus) acid, tartaric acid (from grapes) and lecithin (generally sourced from soy or sunflower seeds) can be used as preservatives.
4 WAYS TO AVOID THE WORST PRESERVATIVES
Buy fresh foods where possible – fruit, vegetables, meats. Organic is best!
Look for foods with natural preservatives: ascorbic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid, sunflower lecithin, hops, salt, sugar, vinegar, alcohol, castor oil and diatomaceous earth.
Avoid the following nasty preservatives: E221/ Sodium sulphite; MSG/E621; BHA/BHT/E320; E220/Sulfur Dioxide; Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite.
Enjoy cooking food from scratch!
In our fast paced lives we have given up the joy of spending time in the kitchen preparing delicious fresh food. If YOU prepare it, YOU know what's in it! Happy cooking!