Looking Into Greener Extraction Methods

For centuries, additives that improve flavor, fragrance, shelf-life, or color have played a significant role in food, beverage, and cosmetics production. While modern technology allows for the synthesis of artificial additives, the current consumer culture is driving the focus toward using flavorings of natural origin. This blog post explores the demand for natural food flavorings, how they are extracted, and greener extraction methods for more sustainable food production.
Why Many Consumers Prefer Natural Extracts for Food Flavoring
There is a growing preference for naturally-derived food additives based on the desire for more functional processed foods that contain beneficial nutrients. Studies have shown that many natural additives, such as phenolic acids and flavonols, contain more antioxidants than synthetic alternatives.
There are increasing reports of hypersensitivity to synthetic ingredients causing allergies in children. Concerns over the long-term health effects of ingesting synthetic compounds may also be spurring the preference for natural additives. The FDA recently removed six artificial flavorings1 from its approved list after they produced carcinogenic effects in animals.
While many claims against artificial flavors require further investigation, they have sparked a global trend and consumer culture of choosing natural flavorings over synthetic additives.
Extracting Natural Additives From Plants
Naturally-occurring plant pigments, such as chlorophylls, carotenoids, and anthocyanins, are valuable coloring agents for food and cosmetics. Humans have also used essential oils derived from plants to flavor and fragrance products for centuries. Extracting and isolating the flavor, color, or fragrance molecules from the raw material typically involves using solvents to draw the desired compounds out of the solid plant matter.
The most common conventional extraction methods are:

  • Maceration
    This liquid-solid extraction method involves applying heat and agitation to a solvent in contact with the raw material. Although maceration is low-cost and straightforward, it often requires extensive filtration and energy usage.

  • Distillation
    Distillation is an ancient extraction method to separate liquids at high temperatures. Manufacturers use water, steam, or both to draw essential oils and other distillates out of plant matter before condensing and collecting them for filtration.

  • Cold-pressing
    This extraction technique applies mechanical pressure to vegetable matter to rupture the oil glands in the plant. Cold-pressing is simple and eco-friendly but only suitable for extracting limited vegetable oils.

  • Soxhlet extraction
    Soxhlet extraction requires specialized apparatus called a Soxhlet extractor. The extractor boils and vaporizes organic solvents to solubilize the desired plant compounds. The solvents cool and reintegrate into the system until the extraction is complete. There is no filtration required.

  • Infusion extraction
    Infusions are short macerations involving brief submersion of the plant in water to extract organic compounds in diluted form. Infusions typically have a short shelf-life due to their high water content.

8 Green Extraction Methods for More Sustainable Food Production
The conventional methods we use to extract chemical compounds from plants often adversely affect the natural environment. Traditional extraction methods require large volumes of organic solvents that sometimes originate from non-renewable resources. These extraction processes also create a lot of waste and consume large amounts of energy to produce the high temperatures required for successful extraction.
There is scientific interest in solvent-free extraction techniques that reduce energy consumption and processing costs while producing high-quality, sustainable extracts for food and cosmetic use.
Here are eight emerging extraction methods for sustainable natural flavoring and fragrance production:

  1. Ultrasound-assisted extraction (UAE)
    Ultrasound frequencies rupture the plant cells, releasing the desired intracellular compounds.

  3. High-pressure assisted extraction (HPAE)
    Manufacturers apply extreme uniform pressure to plant cells to release their organic ingredients.

  5. Microwave-assisted extraction (MAE)
    Uses electric and magnetic fields alongside organic solvents to rupture cell walls and release intracellular compounds.

  7. Enzyme assisted extraction (EAE)
    Enzymes react with the plant matter, providing access to the desired ingredients and accelerating extraction.

  9. Supercritical fluid extraction (SFE)
    Using supercritical fluids (SF), such as supercritical carbon dioxide, as extraction agents to dissolve plant matter. Supercritical fluids act as liquids and gases simultaneously for optimal extraction.

  11. Pulse electrified field extraction (PEF)
    Applying short electric voltage to the plant matter increases the cell permeability for easy collection of extracts.

  13. Pressurized liquid assisted extraction (PLE)
    High pressure and heat allow the solvent to retain its liquid form past its boiling point for maximum solubility and a higher diffusion rate, reducing solvent and energy usage.

  15. Surfactant assisted extraction (SAE)
    Surfactants lower the surface tension of solvents for higher absorption and more efficient extraction.

The demand for naturally-derived fragrances and flavorings increases as consumers seek more organic products; however, their extraction processes often create adverse environmental effects. Adopting greener extraction processes can reduce our solvent and energy consumption for more sustainable food and cosmetic production.
Advanced Biotech is a trusted supplier of natural aromatics, extracts, essential oils, distillates, and other fragrance and flavoring additives for food and cosmetics. Please contact us for more information.

1 https://www.fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/fda-removes-7-synthetic-flavoring-substances-food-additives-list