One of the most disappointing incidents that home is preparing your healthy meal only for it to spoil or taste funny is when you are ready to consume it. That is paramount that you practice proper food preservation measures so that your food doesn’t go bad before you can eat it.
The term food preservation refers to the several methods are used to keep food from deteriorating after slaughter or harvest. The technique dates back to ancient times. Fermentation, refrigeration, and drying rank among some of the oldest methods of the practice. In the modern age, the science of preserving food includes freezing, irradiation, pasteurization, and using chemicals. Cutting-edge technologies that have evolved around packaging materials have also played a pivotal role in preserving food in modern times.
However, are you aware that natural kitchen ingredients can also be used to preserve food? Let us take a look a bit about ‘natural preservatives.’
What are natural preservatives?
Natural preservatives are naturally occurring additives that can be used to retard the growth of spoilage organisms like bacteria and mold in food. They function by minimizing changes in terms of flavor, texture, and color. Contrary to their chemical counterparts, natural preservatives exist in nature and can prevent food from going bad prematurely without and artificial processes or interaction with other substances.
They are very helpful, particularly when you want to preserve food for long durations. Many benefits come with using natural preservatives for your food as they guard it against going bad quickly. Natural preservations are easy to access and are some of the best ways of prolonging your food items’ shelf life without parting away with a lot of money.
In this article, you will learn about the top 7 most popular natural preservatives that you can add to your food to preserve it without using any chemical additives.
Salt is a naturally occurring substance whose chemical name is sodium chloride. The use of salt to preserve food, better known as salting, is a pre-historic practice. It can be traced back to several thousands of years ago. Some of the most common foods are preserved using naturally occurring chloride include smoked salmon, beef jerky, and pickles.
Salt preserves food by reducing the water content of fruits, vegetables, and meats through a process known as dehydration. At low water content, the growth of bacteria, fungi, and molds, which a primarily responsible for the non-enzymatic and enzymatic decay of food, is retarded. Salt draws water molecules away from the food, making the vital fluid unavailable for chemical reactions that result in decay. Its high concentrations also inhibit the multiplication of microorganisms that participate in the decay process, such as bacteria.
Salt can be used to preserve food in two primary forms. These are either in granules or in brine – which is a mixture of salt and water. For instance, ham can be cured using salt granules, while cucumbers are best preserved with brine. The process of preserving food with salt granules is known as dry curing. It is done by applying salt to the meat’s exposed parts and storing it in that manner for several weeks. In recent times, this curing is done by injecting the meat with brine.
Sugar is a naturally occurring substance that exists in the form of carbohydrates. Its use in food preservation dates back to ages ago. It is used in food items such as jellies, jams, chutneys, and conserves to prevent them from deteriorating. It is one of the best ways of preserving food as it can be accessed cheaply.
Sugar uses the same mechanism that salt uses to preserve food. When added to food, it binds to the water molecules, reducing the amount of water available for replicating microorganisms such as bacteria that are critical for the food decay process. Sugar has an osmotic effect. When foods are placed in a sugar-concentrated solution, water molecules are drawn out of the food, and microorganisms die. Sugar and salt are used together to preserve particular foods such as fish.
Sugar can be used to preserve fruits by desiccating them and then packing them with the substance. Ginger and cherries are some of the fruits that are traditionally preserved using this method. Another option is to store foods in a sugar syrup or cook them until they crystalize. As long as the contents are stored in an airtight container, sugar can preserve food for an extended period.
– Lemon & Lime
Lemon and lime are organically occurring and can be used to enhance the quality and prolong several goods’ shelf life. The two are some of the most commonly found citrus fruits.
Both lemon and lime juices act as natural preservatives because of the acidic properties that they carry. Lemons and limes contain citric and ascorbic acids. These have low pH values that enable them to have antioxidant and antibacterial properties. There are standardized juices with specific pH levels that are recommended for long-term storage purposes. However, lemon juice or lime juice can also be squeezed and used to prevent discoloring vegetables and fruits.
You can make use of a little lime juice on apples to prevent them from turning red. At the same time, the method also helps preserve their nutritional value. To summarize it, sprinkle tiny drops of lime juice on your vegetable-based meal and watch it perform wonders. Julie Garden-Robinson, a food and nutrition expert, suggests that you should soak cut fruit for ten minutes before dehydrating. She means that you use a mixture of equal measures of water and lemon juice. However, it is paramount to highlight that neither lemon nor lime is suitable for meats’ food preservatives.
– Olive Oil
Olive oil is an organically occurring preservative that prevents the deterioration of food items by making them airtight. It provides a seal that retards oxidation and molding.
One of the most frequently asked questions regarding olive oil as a food preservative is ‘How is it done?’ To answer it: basically, the food should be dry. The jars or containers to be used in the process should also be entirely dry and clean. You make use of extra virgin olive oil and completely cover the food. It is also paramount to highlight that you must never fill the jar or container to the brim. Olive oil is ideally used to preserve food that is either ingested in small quantities or usually cooked with olive oil. These include food items such as mushrooms, baby artichokes, sweet peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and so on.
However, the major drawback is that the foods will become too saturated with the oil, and it might not be possible to eliminate it when eating. As a result, this method of preserving food causes high chances of consuming a lot of fat. Furthermore, the process can be significantly expensive because olive is not cheap. Olive oil is usually used as a food preservative in the Mediterranean region, where the oil is abundantly available and inexpensive.
The use of vinegar as a food preservation method is thought to have its roots in Northwest India around 2400B.C. It rose out of the need to have an easy way to preserve food for long voyages and export. It was the first written down use of vinegar and vegetables, pickling cucumbers.
Acidic environments slow down or even bring to a halt the growth or survival of microorganisms. Immersing foods in an acidic environment like vinegar, which is also known as acetic acid, inhibits the growth of yeasts and bacteria on food surfaces. As a result, the food is saved from deteriorating and is safe to eat for long periods such as months or even years.
There are two critical issues that you must bear in mind as you prepare your preserves. Firstly, it is vital to carefully select your vinegar as these impact the taste of the food. Furthermore, just as applies to any other preserves, cleanliness is paramount. Your utensils and jars should be tidy.
When preserving using vinegar:
- Add spices and herbs for a more robust taste when pickling foods.
- Pick distilled and light varieties of vinegar with good flavorings such as malt, white wine, or cider.
- Generally, anything that has reasonably strong peel can be pickled. It includes fruits such as plums, pears, and mixtures of vegetables and fruit. They taste fantastic in a sweet-sour broth.
Honey is a viscous and sweet liquid that is produced by honeybees using nectar from flowers. The use of honey as a food preservation technique dates back to ancient times. Honey is favorable as a preservation method due to a wide range of properties such as acidity and dehydration abilities. As long as honey is not mixed with water or any other substance, it does not spoil.
The high concentrations of sugars on honey give it the ability to remove water molecules from any bacteria or yeast cells. These are responsible for causing food deterioration. Like salt, honey prevents food decay by a process known as osmosis. Eventually, the process kills those cells by dehydrating them up until they dry up.
Since raw honey exhibits antimicrobial characteristics, it can act as an excellent pre-treatment substance for dehydrating fruits. You have to mix three parts of water to 1 part of honey and immerse the fruit into the honey-water mixture before dehydrating it. Some cultures, such as the ‘Kikuyus’ in Central Kenya, used to preserve meat by roasting it then applying a generous amount of honey on its surface to produce a bonne bouche known as ‘rukuri.’ The Kikuyu people could enjoy this delicacy for numerous days. They could even use honey to preserve cooked meat.
Garlic is a plant that belongs to the allium family that is closely related to onion, leeks, and shallots. The plant is mostly used in food flavoring and has numerous health benefits that include antibiotic, anti-diabetic, anti-hypertensive properties, etc. The use of garlic, both as a food additive and for medicinal purposes, can be traced back thousands of years ago. Garlic can be used to preserve food as it retards the growth of pathogens and as a remedy for the treatment or management of several medical issues.
Garlic carries anti-viral characteristics that play a role of paramount importance in fighting against bacteria, both in your body and food. One research study proved that fresh garlic could extend the shelf life of raw camel meat by up to 4 days under room conditions and 28 days under refrigeration without a sign of deterioration or microbial activity. It suggests that garlic can enhance the potential of natural food preservation methods such as pickling, brines, and preserve the animal protein dishes in a fresh state.
Putting a clove of garlic or some sliced garlic in your dip, soup, dressing, or any other dish will help maintain harmful bacteria inactive and enables your food to remain fresh for longer durations.
More ways for food preservation
The main objective of food preservation is to retard microbial and enzyme activity or destroy them entirely. In recent times, the most popular methods are freezing, chilling, fermentation, acidification, or the addition of naturally occurring preservatives such as those discussed above. Furthermore, using a kitchen storage container that is liquid and airtight helps maintain the fresh state of your food intact and preserves the aroma for an extended period.
These common and naturally occurring kitchen ingredients are an ideal method of keeping your food fresh and flavorful. The Covid-19 global pandemic might have caused you to pile up all kinds of food items as you complied with the lockdown restrictions that are in effect in most jurisdictions.
Kindly send us feedback if you have tried to use any of the above-mentioned natural preservatives in your food.