Essential Oils in the Food Industry for Flavor and Preservation

03/13/2024
Essential Oils in the Food Industry for Flavor and Preservation

Essential oils have garnered significant interest as environmentally friendly food additives that can effectively replace synthetic additives with their own set of drawbacks. Essential oils are composed of a variety of substances, including blends of hydrophobic volatile secondary metabolites. 

Owing to their diverse compositions, they have been found to exhibit exceptional potential, which enables them to serve as dependable alternatives to a range of artificial food additives.

Food safety and quality have gained worldwide attention in recent times even though artificial additives are being used for food preservation. The extraction, purification, and use of different plant-derived essential oils for food preservation is one of the rapidly developing technologies of today. 

Essential oils address a range of food preservation issues due to their unique preservative tendencies and potential. These oils not only extend the shelf life of food ingredients but also enhance their flavor in higher-level applications.

Applications of Essential Oils in the Food IndustryActive Packaging

Food packaging extends the shelf life and ensures food safety by shielding food from environmental elements like heat, pressure, oxygen, UV light, and water vapor. With the addition of EOs and biodegradable materials, active packaging interacts with the product and, despite the possibility of some synthetic compounds, has made industrial producers determined to use it as an environmentally friendly packing method with increased consumer acceptability. While the polymer must protect the EO, ensure its controlled release, be soluble in water, biocompatible, biodegradable, and inexpensive, it is crucial to select the right coating or carrier material as an EO delivery system in active packaging design.

1. Meat Products

Essential oils from thyme, oregano, eugenol, clove, and coriander can be used to control autochthonous spoilage meat microflora; essential oils cause a notable reduction in the initial viable cell number. Research indicates that meat fat influences the bioactivity of essential oils.

Edible coatings for beef steak have been made using essential oils of oregano and rosemary. This coating aids in preventing the steak's lipids from oxidizing. This aids in preserving the meat's color. Additionally, the coating keeps the steak's moisture or water content consistent. As a consequence, the meat tastes and smells better. 

2. Sea Foods

Similar to meat and meat products, fats diminish the bioactive potential of essential oils in seafood. A report stated that the essential oil of oregano, at 0.05% volume by weight, performed better against the bacteria. Several studies have demonstrated that the combined action of essential oil combinations enhances the microbial stability of seafood products high in fat.

3. Fruits and Vegetables

Bacterial enzymes are the main cause of spoilage in pasteurized fruit juices. To effectively combat E. Coli, Salmonella spp., and Listeria spp., essential oils of aromatic plants such as lemongrass, ginger, etc., can be added to the juice of melon, pear, and apple. Further studies revealed that combining malic acid with eugenol, citral, and ginger can improve the freshness of "Pieldesapo" melon.

The Use of Essential Oils in Food Preservation

Recent years have seen successful research on the use of essential oils in food as “essential oil preservatives” to extend shelf life. Numerous researchers have employed pure or formulated essential oils to extend the shelf life of food products in various storage containers and have seen a notable improvement in shelf life.

Food commodities that have fungal infections lose some of their nutrients and physiological qualities, as well as some of their color, texture, and quality. Fungi can also produce mycotoxins when they are infected. Regarding molds, foodborne illnesses and associated health risks make food contamination by Alternaria, Aspergillus, Penicillium, Fusarium, and Rhizopus species extremely important. Therefore, using essential oils to stop fungal growth during storage and transportation may be an affordable way to reduce food loss.

Benefits of Using Essential Oils in Food

Ever since the 'natural lifestyle' movement took off, essential oils have become a household staple for aromatherapy and cosmetic purposes. Often called 'nature's pharmacy,' essential oils are intensely concentrated extracts obtained through steam distillation or cold pressing of flowers or plants.

Essential oils for food are hidden treasures that have long been used in the food and beverage industries but are rarely discussed. Thus, the next time you're at the grocery store and you see these tiny bottles of magic, pick one up to elevate your cooking!

The table below refers to the general benefits of using essential oils in food. 

Flavor Boost

Adds natural and intense flavors to your dishes.

Aroma Boost

Essential oils contribute to delightful aromas which raise the experience of meals.

Versatility

You can experiment with different flavors and aromas for different cuisines.

Natural Source

Essential oils are the best source for infusing food naturally. Natural way keeps the taste unique and authentic. 

Concentrated Flavors

A small dab of the oil is sufficient to provide potent flavors. A small bottle goes a long way.

Shelf-life

Essential oils for food flavoring provide a convenient and lasting solution. 

Easy to use

Using essential oils is simple and requires minimal intervention. 

Customization

One has the flexibility to add a creative touch to culinaries. 

How are Essential Oils incorporated into Food and Beverage Products?

1. Flavoring

  • Due to its high concentration, only a small amount of essential oils is required to be added. Two drops of essential oils like peppermint, lemon, or orange in a recipe are sufficient.
  • Essential oils can be emulsified into liquid components of a recipe. This distributes the flavor evenly throughout. 
  • Another way to distribute the flavor of essential oil can be by using it with solvents. 

2. Baking and Cooking

  • Essential oils like cinnamon, ginger, or citrus can be added directly to the batter while baking.
  • Some essential oils can be infused into cooking oils. This allows flavors to mend. 

3. Beverages

  • A small amount of essential oils like citrus oil can be added to beverages. One might also prefer creating an emulsion with essential oils for food and carrier substances to distribute the oil evenly in beverages.

4. Oil Blends

  • Custom blends of essential oils for food can also be created to get a specific flavor. This is common in flavored oils used in cooking and dressings.

5. Quality Control

  • Since essential oils are concentrated in nature, the purity and potency of the oils are often tested to ensure consistent flavor and safety. 

Conclusion

Essential oils for food are becoming more and more popular as safe, eco-friendly additives that can effectively replace artificial additives, which come with their own set of disadvantages. Recently, there has been a global focus on food safety and quality, despite the use of artificial additives for food preservation. Oregano and rosemary essential oils have been used to create edible coatings for beef steaks. This coating helps keep the lipids in the steak from oxidizing. Although they are rarely discussed, essential oils are hidden gems that have long been used in the food and beverage industries.  

FAQs

Q) Can essential oils affect the nutritional value of food?

a) Essential oils can enhance the flavor but the nutritional value impact is generally low. The volatile compounds of essential oils contribute to the aroma and taste.

Q) What are some common essential oils used in the food and beverage industry?

a) Common essential oils used in the food and beverage industry are:

Q) Do essential oils change the taste of food and drinks?

a) Due to their concentrated nature, essential oils are likely to change the taste of food and drinks.

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