Making organic last
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Billions of dollars in sales testify to the lasting power of the organic market. The lasting power, or shelf life, of each organic food item is another story as the avoidance of synthetic preservatives may bring challenges in achieving adequate shelf life. Fortunately, natural preservatives such as honey, raisins and rosemary extracts may come in organic form.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. organic industry has $35 billion in annual sales, and a study conducted Jan. 18-24 by the Organic Trade Association said 81% of U.S. families report they purchase organic at least sometimes.
A good chance exists those families will check what ingredients are used as preservatives in the organic products. A report titled “Beyond natural and organic 2010” from The Hartman Group, Inc., Bellevue, Wash., showed that 66% of survey respondents thought the term organic implied or suggested no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. A January 2012 report from Marketsandmarkets revealed the global preservative market by 2016 is estimated to be at $2,552.4 million due to a boost from growth in natural preservatives.
Honey, an example of a natural preservative, is available in 300 varieties in the United States, said Catherine Barry, director of marketing for the National Honey Board, Firestone, Colo. Each variety has its own flavor, and each variety may be organic.
“Honey is honey, regardless of if it is organic or not,” Ms. Barry said. “All honey has the same composition and functional ability to extend the shelf life of bakery foods and inhibit mold growth through the three main factors that help maintain crumb softness: preventing moisture transfer, delaying starch recrystallization and hydrolyzing starch.
“Liquid honey is hygroscopic and enables products to maintain their moisture content far longer than products that use dry sweeteners. Honey, by design, does not give up its water easily.”
Other ingredients such as starches, fibers and maltodextrins bind water and prevent moisture transfer, she said.
“However, the amylase present in honey promotes crumb softness by effectively hydrolyzing starch, thereby contributing to moisture retention,” Ms. Barry said. “Honey’s fructose content also holds in a bakery food’s moisture, thus reducing dry products and the ingredient’s high acidity (average pH 3.91) inhibits mold growth.”
Organic raisins, just like regular raisins, may extend shelf life, according to the California Raisin Marketing Board, Fresno, Calif. The high water-binding capacity helps to retain moisture in bakery products, the board said. Naturally occurring organic acids, including tartaric, propionic and glutamic acids, provide such benefits as inhibiting mold growth, acting as a natural preservative and enhancing flavors.
Two phenolic compounds naturally present in rosemary leaves, carnosic acid and carnosol, were identified as the main oil soluble contributors to the antioxidant activity of rosemary extracts, said Baptiste Demur, business manager at Naturex, Avignon, France. Rosemary leaves also contain water-soluble rosmarinic acid, which has antioxidant properties.
Rosemary extracts may delay the development of off-flavors, rancidity and discoloration in many food and beverage products, Mr. Demur said.
“But only those extracts that contain carnosic acid, carnosol or rosmarinic acid are able to do this,” he said.
Vitiva, Markovci, Slovenia, offers rosemary extracts with carnosic acid, carnosol and rosmarinic acid. The company said internal reports and other published literature have shown rosemary antioxidants in most applications are more effective than vitamin E (synthetic), BHA, BHT and TBHQ. Vitiva offers a range of rosemary extracts in Inolens, which have a low odor and reduced bitterness. Since these ingredients are extracted from plants, they will be more expensive than synthetic preservatives, according to Vitiva. Cost savings may be realized through economies of scale and the effectiveness of extraction processes.
Vitiva in 2009 received organic certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.
Under European regulations, deodorized rosemary extracts standardized to carnosic acid and carnosol are listed as food antioxidants, Mr. Demur said. Organic-certified variants are approved for use as antioxidants in organic foods, he said.
“Organic-certified rosemary extracts are a bit more expensive than conventional ones,” Mr. Demur said. “Additional quality requirements, production constraints, dedicated processes and third-party certification lead to additional costs in the manufacturing of such products. But since usage levels of rosemary extracts in foods remain very low, cost-in-use for organic rosemary extracts remains low compared to the total cost of the organic finished product.”
In general, establishing acceptable shelf life of organic products may mean using some of the same strategies used in establishing acceptable shelf life of conventional products.
“The main methods that I am aware of are those that are also used by the mainstream food industry: low water activity, inert gasses, retort, aseptic and higher barrier packaging, freezing, traditional methods like smoking, salting, fermenting, antioxidants from rosemary,” said Prescott Bergh, sales and marketing director for Ciranda, Inc., Hudson, Wis. “We offer organic lecithin and some tapioca syrups that can help staling in baked goods.”