Recently my husband was reading the ingredients list on the side panel of a cereal box, and he asked, “What’s BHT?” His question got me thinking. Would consumers gulp down that box of ready-made breakfast cereal if BHT was listed “butylated hydroxytoluene, a potential carcinogen”, instead? My mind turned to this article from last year about Polish researchers who are using raspberry seed extract as a natural alternative to BHT. But are natural preservatives that much better? What is it with the obsession of extending shelf life through the use of additives, anyway?
Around the world, food producers can’t leave well enough alone. Brazilian researchers are experimenting with modified milk protein to extend the shelf life of beef. Last year in Spain, scientists discovered they could increase fish’s shelf life by adding grape antioxidants. A study out of Japan showed that certain mushroom extracts visually improved the color of beef and certain types of fish. In Italy, university research revealed that the roots of sedge grasses can be used to replace artificial additives like BHT.
I definitely don’t want a side helping of butylated hydroxytoluene with my meals, but I can’t quite get myself excited about these food-derived preservatives, either. When I take a bite out of an all-beef patty, I expect it to be just that –all beef– with no surprise allergens. Blame it on food-allergy-induced-paranoia, but I don’t want anything extra –natural or otherwise– lurking in my food. I’ll take my meals in the form of old-fashioned, perishable, whole food.
And that bit about extended shelf-life? No thanks. Food producers can shelve that, too, right next to the additives. After all, what’s wrong with tried-and-true methods of preserving the harvest?