There has never been a better time to use a clean-label preservation solution.

Consumers have long shown a reluctance to purchase food containing artificial preservatives, with research finding that 57% globally prefer products that are free from additives and 62% are concerned about ingredients that sound chemical.  

Now, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, consumers are paying even more attention to the food they eat. Worldwide, nearly three-quarters (73%) say they intend to adopt healthier eating and drinking habits in the future due to COVID-19. 

The International Food Information Council's 2020 Food & Health Survey shows shoppers see products as healthier when they are labeled “all natural,” contain no artificial additives, and have shorter ingredient lists. 

Nonetheless, manufacturers still need to ensure that food and drink stays fresh for as long as possible – especially as 64% of shoppers globally are stepping up their efforts to cut food waste in light of the pandemic. 

Rosemary can unravel manufacturers’ dilemma. Known throughout the world as a culinary herb, it also contains potent antioxidative and antimicrobial properties that help keep food and drink fresh.

Providing a natural alternative to synthetic antioxidants such as BHA, BHT, TBHQ and EDTA, rosemary – alone or in combination with other extracts – can now be found in most processed food categories, including meat and poultry, sauces and dressings, oils and fats, margarine, bakery and snack foods, and even beverages. 

A natural preservation solution

Oxidation is a major cause of deterioration in food and drink with lipid components, leading to unpleasant smells and flavors, color fading, or browning.  As a result of rosemary’s powerful antioxidation properties, it has been shown to provide an effective means of limiting the degradation that occurs when such products are exposed to oxidation catalysts such as oxygen, light and temperature. 

Microbial spoilage of products such as meat and poultry is another key issue. According to the 2020 Food & Health Survey, foodborne illness from bacteria is the most widespread food safety issue for consumers today, with more than half of respondents naming it among their top three concerns.

While manufacturers might previously have relied on stringent processing conditions or the use of artificial preservatives to prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria, these approaches are incompatible with the ‘back-to-basics’ and clean-label trends.

Rosemary provides a “clean” solution thanks to its natural antimicrobial properties. Studies show rosemary extracts inhibit outgrowth of several pathogenic bacteria usually found in meat and poultry, including Listeria and Salmonella. 

Unlocking rosemary’s secrets

Part of Givaudan since 2018, Naturex’s botanists and scientists have spent more than 25 years working with rosemary, developing a deep understanding of its mechanisms of action and learning how to make the most of its natural strengths.

Much recent innovation has come with the development of synergistic blends. Combining the advantages offered by different plant sources has opened up exciting preservation possibilities using natural, well-known ingredients such as acerola, green tea and pomegranate. 

For example, EDTA and other artificial antioxidants are often used in mayonnaise and dressings to chelate or bind with metal ions, preventing their catalytic effect on the oxidation process. 

Naturex carried out a major research program that explored the chelating and free radical-scavenging properties of more than 400 botanical extracts. It revealed that a synergistic combination of rosemary and spinach extracts could offer a level of protection comparable to EDTA, providing an ideal way to help to keep high-fat emulsions fresh while maintaining a clean and clear label.

The company’s research has also shown that combining rosemary with extracts from other sources can enhance its ability to limit bacterial spoilage in meat. A blend of rosemary and citrus extracts, for instance, has been shown to be particularly effective in reducing Listeria growth.

These examples provide an insight into some of the many ways in which rosemary can help maintain product freshness. And, with research continuing to reveal new ways to optimize performance, the use of rosemary extracts has been growing sharply. Indeed, between 2008 and 2019, the number of product launches featuring ‘rosemary extract’ on the label increased more than seven-fold globally. 

With a recent survey showing 56% of global consumers are even more attentive to natural ingredient claims as a result of COVID-19, manufacturers now have more reason than ever before to switch to clean-label preservation. 

Whether on its own or as part of a blend, rosemary is the natural choice to help ensure food and drink stays fresh throughout the shelf life.