For centuries, people have used natural preservatives as well as natural food preservation methods to extend the shelf life of foods. This is done in preparation for lean months or cold weather. Food preservatives prevent the growth of microorganisms as well as stop chemical reaction which can cause spoilage.
Preservatives are added into foodstuffs because they maintain the texture, flavor, appearance, edibility, and more importantly, the nutritional value of the foods. The process also prevents food poisoning.
Food preservatives can be natural or chemical substances though natural food preservatives are much preferred over their synthetic counterparts. There are three main types on their mode of preservation: antimicrobial, antioxidant, and enzyme inhibitor.
The first type of preservatives hamper the growth of harmful microorganisms while, on the hand, the second type prevents oxidation of fats, lipids, and other food components. The third type of preservatives work by slowing down the ripening process of foods such as fruits and vegetables.
The most common, and possibly the best, natural preservatives used since the ancient times are salt, sugar, vinegar and rosemary extract.
Salted food is one of the oldest ways to preserve food and this is especially true for meat and fish. Salted meat can last for a very long time, even years when stored properly. Salting foods will eliminate water content thus inhibiting microbial growth.
Sugar also acts the same way as salt, which is by removing water content through the process known as osmosis. Preservation is done by cooking the food until the sugar crystallizes. Foodstuffs can either be preserved immersed in sugar syrup or in crystallized form.
Vinegar, on the other hand, is also used as a preservative even though it is acidic. Acetic acid, which is at 4-5% concentration, is effective in inhibiting the growth of microorganisms. The process of preservation involves fermenting sugar and vinegar past the alcohol stage.
Rosemary extract is also a long-standing natural preservative which is obtained from distillation of rosemary leaves. They have excellent antioxidant properties which make them ideal for extending the shelf life of foodstuffs.
Aside from these, new researches have also revealed other possible natural preservatives. Grape pomace extract, which is prepared from grape seeds, skin, and stems, has significant antibacterial properties which can be used for food preservation.
Another study on green tea and black tea extracts tested their effects on filamentous fungi, gram positive, and gram negative bacteria and it was concluded that the extracts, especially black tea extract, have a significant antifungal action.
There is still another research on the development of a preservative from cereal grains which is being studied for it possible mold-fighting properties.
If you are planning on learning new things at the kitchen, why not try the art of preserving foods? Once you master the art of food preservation, you can take it to the next level by making it as an extra source of income. Who knows, your rhubarb preserves may be the next best thing?