More and more packaged food companies are using it to keep items from spoiling
Credit: Photo by Martina Gruber / EyeEm Creative via Getty Images

Rosemary is a fragrant, woody herb often used to season dishes like roast chicken or potatoes. But its potential extends far beyond just being a flavor enhancer. Rosemary extract is slowly growing in popularity among certain food producers due to its ability to act as a natural preservative.

Many packaged breakfast foods are, unsurprisingly, filled with preservatives. Things like granola bars, English muffins, pancake syrup, and cereal are made with ingredients that will eventually spoil, yet they’re intended to stay fresh on the grocery store shelf for weeks, if not months. Because of this, it’s not strange to see them contain preservatives like citric acid, sodium sorbate, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, sodium nitrite, and sulphur dioxide. Ultimately, these chemicals keep packaged foods from growing bacteria, spoiling, and discoloring.

While it’s better for business to keep foods fresh for as long as possible, it has been proven that many of these preservatives can be harmful to the body if consumed in excess or over a long period of time. However, studies have found that there are certain natural products that actually do the same job as the preservatives, one of them being rosemary extract.

The antioxidant properties of rosemary extract come from bioactive compounds in the plant known as polyphenols. Rosemary contains carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid, both of which help delay oxidation of fats and slow down the effectiveness of any microorganisms that cause food to spoil. These polyphenols were studied by the European Food Safety Authority in 2008, and later, the European Union approved the use of rosemary extract in a number of forms for food preservation. It remains an approved food additive in the eyes of the FDA.

Since rosemary extract works so well when it comes to keeping oils from going rancid, it’s often used in items with high fat contents, like sausage or chorizo, or in some condiments like salad dressing. It’s also found in packaged granola bars with a high fat content from nuts and oils that are intended to stay fresh for months, like Nature Valley Crisps, Enjoy Life Chewy Bars, and Kellogg’s Special K Nourish bars and bites.