7 Safe Food Preservatives

Preservatives are used to protect your food from microbes that might contaminate it or cause it to rot. Foods that have a long shelf life often contain preservatives. Preservatives protect you from food poisoning and keep your food looking and tasting fresh. But many preservatives used today are chemical in origin and might have dangerous side effects. Here are some healthy, safe food preservatives to look for.

1) Salt

Salt is one of the world’s oldest food preservatives. It’s been used since antiquity to preserve meat and fish. Products that are treated with salt can remain in good condition for years.

Salt dehydrates the food and the microbes present in the food, so that they can’t contribute to decomposition. Salt also keeps food dry enough to prevent the growth of mold and yeast.

2) Rosemary Extract

Also known as rosemary oleoresin, rosemary extract is another natural preservative that’s been used for hundreds of years. It also gives food a nice aroma and flavor.

Rosemary leaves are distilled to make rosemary extract. The extract is an antioxidant that preserves the flavor and appearance of food by preventing oxidation, a key component of decomposition.

3) Sugar

Like salt, sugar removes moisture from food, preventing the growth of bacteria and other microbes that contribute to decomposition. Sugar has been used as a preservative for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians were even known to preserve food in jars of honey. Foods preserved in sugar are typically sweet. They may be stored in a sugary syrup (like honey) or cooked in sugar until they crystallize.

4) Vinegar

Vinegar is another of the world’s oldest natural food preservatives. It contains 5% acetic acid, which kills bacteria and other micro-organisms.

5) Sorbic Acid

While sorbic acid is a chemical compound, it’s one that occurs naturally and was first isolated in the berries of the Rowan tree. Sorbic acid (E200), and its salts prevent the growth of mold, yeast, fungi and bacteria. Sorbic acid shouldn’t be confused with asorbic acid or vitamin C.

The salts of sorbic acid are:

  • Sodium sorbate (E201)
  • Potassium sorbate (E202)
  • Calcium sorbate (E203)

6) Propionic Acid

Propionic acid is another naturally occurring product. It was discovered to be a part of the sugar molecule in 1844. Propionic acid is similar to acetic acid–the ingredient in vinegar that prevents the decomposition of foods. As such, propionic acid can prevent the growth of molds, fingi, yeasts and bacteria in foods. Foods that contain propionic acid include baked good such as bread. It’s also often used as a preservative in animal feeds.

7) Sulfites

Sulfites have been used since the days of the Roman Empire to preserve wine. They’re also used to gently but thoroughly clean winemaking equipment. Sulfites are perfectly safe for most people to consume, though in rare cases, some people may experience violent allergic reactions if they drink wine that contains sulfites. Asthmatics are more likely than most to experience an allergic reaction to sulfites.


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