The natural ways of doing things with food have always been the best. Convincing consumers and manufacturers of this fact is harder than it seems, but natural preservatives are plentiful. They include many common household foods which sometimes cause problems of their own but are, in general, safer than synthetic preservatives.
Synthetic Preservatives in a Nutshell
If you can’t pronounce an ingredient or do not recognize it, the item is probably a chemical creation. Studies have shown that some of these ingredients are potentially carcinogenic although studies have yet to move beyond animals into the human realm. You know it in your gut that names such as MSG and BHT give cause for suspicion.
A number of foods lend themselves to this process of preservation such as soy, milk products, and certain vegetables. Scientists and food safety experts agree that this is an excellent means of protecting food from bad bacteria which are attacked by good bacteria which provide an inhospitable environment.
Yogurt, Kimchi, Miso, and Kombucha are great examples. Wine and vinegars rely on their acidity to last for years at room temperature. One must always remember that storage conditions are important, including keeping things out of direct sunlight and at room temperature.
Safe Foods in Your Kitchen
Maybe you do not care for Kimchi, Sauerkraut, or Miso soup, but there are many other natural ingredients familiar to and preferred by the western tongue. These include numerous foods found in the average kitchen such as sugar and salt. One might easily provide the acid from a lime or lemon to preserve something for a short period of time but sometimes the ingredients above are utilized to maintain a food for even longer.
Other extracts, derived from Rosemary, for instance, can be used to the same purpose as citrus fruits, and citric acid (like lemon juice, only in a different form) is another of the many options a household already has on hand.
They make the environment inside of food unkind to bacteria and mold by reducing moisture and killing bacteria. Some preservatives are especially good for fending off mold but not all are anti-pathogenic.
Negatives of Natural Preservatives
The down side to using sugar or honey to reduce the moisture and bacterial friendliness of a product is that it becomes sweet. Maybe you didn’t want a lot of sugar in an item but sugar was required to extend its shelf life.
Fruit possesses natural sugar, but the addition of more enables summer canners to keep their homemade salsa and compote in the cupboard for months, even without sealing it properly. Jams and jellies suffer the same way, with sugar or honey a part of both the preserving and the thickening process.
Children love their sticky, thick sweetness but parents often turn to a pressure cooker in order to reduce the amount of sugar required in a recipe for the canning cupboard.
Salt is another great preserver and has been for centuries, maybe millennia. Children learn at school how ancient mariners used salt to preserve meat for long journeys at sea. Often this is a part they remember all too clearly along with tales of wormy biscuits stored in the dark lower levels of huge ships.
Salt would enable a galley cook to keep meat for many months without it becoming rancid, but there are issues with salt.
Firstly, foods taste overly salty when they are preserved this way. Secondly, too much salt is bad for blood pressure. Natural salt is an alternative to table salt, but the saltiness of preserved meats such as deli or dried meats can be an acquired taste.
One will inevitably wish for a tall glass of water after eating a stick of pepperoni although deli meats are well liked for school lunches and camping food.