Food science researchers at Oregon State University have determined that raisins are a great substitute for sodium nitrite, a preservative commonly used in beef jerky.
Mark Daeschel, an OSU food scientist, is a specialist in natural "antimicrobials" - natural substances added to food that inhibit the growth of harmful microorganisms. He and OSU research assistants Karl Schilke and Cindy Bower have completed research indicating that ground up raisins work just as well as the preservative sodium nitrite, typically used as a processed meat preservative by the food industry.
The research results will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Food Science.
Daeschel and his colleagues found that adding raisins to jerky inhibited bacterial growth, especially the types prevalent in food borne illness: E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Listeria monocytogenes.
"Raisins performed as an antimicrobial at least as well as sodium nitrite in jerky," said Daeschel.
Sodium nitrite has been found to break down into cancer-causing chemicals during digestion. In addition inhibiting bacterial growth, raisins bring multiple nutritional benefits to jerky over jerky made with typical preservatives.
"First, when you add raisins to jerky, it means there is less fat in the jerky," he said. "Plus, raisins are high in antioxidants and have lots of fiber. Consumers are looking for all these characteristics - low fat, high fiber and antioxidants."
Raisin additives may be of benefit especially to those on sodium-restricted diets, he said. "Traditionally, high sodium foods such as beef jerky are restricted for patients on low salt diets," he said. "The substitution of raisins for a high nitrite curing mix may make beef jerky accessible to these people again." Why do raisins work so well as a preservative in jerky?