Consumer opposition to artificial food additives is gathering momentum. New extraction techniques are set to offer an alternative through the discovery of alternative natural plant products.
Additives play an important role in food processing. The average shopping basket would be totally transformed were it not for these chemicals that prevent spoilage, enhance colour as well as flavour and stabilise our processed food. Natural and artificial additives also allow mass production of food and are therefore inextricably linked to food industry profits.
However, food additives are still the subject of consumer concern as many cause health problems – some are even reported to be carcinogenic. Work by the project 'Novel vegetal-based extracts additives for chemical-free food' (Nochemfood) promises to keep both consumer and manufacturer happy. A consortium of food producers, research centres and universities aimed to develop new vegetal-based additives to lower the risks to health as well as keep the status quo in food processing.
Nochemfood researchers worked with one of Europe's favourite meat products – sausages. Versatile and sporting an individual brand for almost every region, the sausage wouldn't exist in its present form without the addition of nitrites and nitrates. A deadly chain of events however can turn nitrates into nitrites and then nitrosamines in the stomach. Nitrosamines are powerful carcinogens.
The team used a variety of extraction procedures including genomic and biochemical techniques to produce alternative additives to replace nitrites and nitrates. Two small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), both producing regional speciality sausage and salami, joined forces with Nochemfood to test the vegetal additives for their preservative and culinary effects.
Decisions taken by the EC to cut authorised levels of nitrates and nitrites will have significant knock-on effects in the food industry. Alternative, naturally produced chemicals isolated by Nochemfood promise to fill these gaps, not only in the sausage industry but further afield in the food sector. The project has patented its most promising additives.
Consumer demand for nitrite-free sausage is undoubtedly high on a worldwide scale. While Nochemfood's focus was on fermented sausages, the study has a much broader relevance across a number of other food groups. This wide array of applications opens up even more opportunity for companies to expand their production, size and product range.