Fresh bread -- lacking the distinctive odor and flavor of preservatives -- counts as one of the things I love best about living in Germany. Without preservatives, though, mold spores love it too. Bread not eaten within 2-3 days suffers a green pox, rendering it not fit even for soup. (Fortunately, the baker customarily sells half-loaves to help those with small families reduce wasting this staff of life.)
Naturally a headline boasting that University of Alberta researchers baked a better loaf of bread piqued my curiousity. It turns out that Michael Gänzle of the Food Microbiology Lab has found a flavorless replacement for bread preservatives, proving that natural compounds created by lactobacilli have antifungal properties. The research could also suggest new crop treatments, replacing synthetic chemical fungicides to treat crops such as barley, wheat, and rapeseed (the source of canola oil).
Lactobacilli are beneficial micro-organisms typically found in sourdough starter. Gänzle found that if they fed linoleic acid to sourdough starter denizen L. hammesii, the resulting bread exhibited anti-fungal properties. The reason: lactobacilli digest linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that constitutes almost 60% of corn oil and 75% of safflower oil, to produce hydroxy fatty acids.
Using scientific techniques to isolate the compounds with the best antifungal activity (a C18:1 if you must know), the team compared the anti-fungal benefits with other similar compounds. It turns out that:
The use of 20% sourdough fermented with L. hammesii, or the use of 0.15% coriolic acid in breadmaking increased the mold-free shelf life by 2 — 3 days.
Garbologist Willian Rathje found that families waste 30 to 60 percent of specialty breads -- like buns, biscuits, and bagels --
In American Wasteland, Jonathan Bloom reports that "bread and baked goods are by far the most commonly wasted foods at supermarkets," with fully 9% going from shelf to garbage can without even stopping in a consumer's kitchen. Although much of this waste represents poor demand prediction, perhaps a preservative that leaves the taste intact and does not disturb the lovely odor of bread could contribute to reducing food wastes.
Promising FungicidesAnother avenue this research could open involves the use of fungicides to treat agricultural crops. The use of natural hydroxy fatty acids that are sufficiently safe to be approved for use in foods could be used instead of, or as enhancements to, existing fungicides. This could be especially helpful in the case of inorganic fungicides, which can build up metal deposits in soils, and persistant organic fungicides, which also remain in the environment after use.
The research is published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology