Wetenschap - 30 mei 2002

Ancient demon fighter makes food last longer

Ancient demon fighter makes food last longer

A north European grass variety contains two hitherto unknown natural preservatives that are potentially interesting for the food industry. Lithuanian and Wageningen researchers published the news in the May edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

The substances were discovered by sandwich PhD researcher Audrius Pukalskas. Dividing his time between the Kaunus University of Technology and Wageningen University, Pukalskas is working on identifying substances that delay spoiling, which are found in the native Vanilla grass or sweetgrass. Pukalskas had already discovered that rapeseed oil becomes rancid less quickly when extracts of sweetgrass are added to it. The researchers believe that it is these most recently identified compounds that are responsible for delaying the spoiling process.

"The compounds we have now isolated are the most powerful oxidants that we have found in the plants," says second author Dr Teris van Beek. "We have mapped their structure using NMR equipment. Now we are looking into their possible applications."

Sweetgrass is found in the taiga and steppe areas towards the northern polar regions in both America and Eurasia. When it is burned it produces a sweet smell that to modern Westerners is reminiscent of sweets and desserts. The old native American Indians and Euriginals were less prosaic, and ascribed a purifying effect to the sweet smell. In some European areas the grass was burnt in church to exorcise demons.

Pukalskas will graduate in Wageningen, and is supervised by Professor Aede de Groot here and the Lithuanian Professor Rimantas Vanskutonis. His supervisor in Lithuania has spent the last fifteen years searching for natural aromas, antioxidants and antimicrobial compounds for the food industry. In recent years he has been doing this together with the Food Chemistry Group and the Laboratory of Organic Chemistry at Wageningen University.

Willem Koert

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