I get calls from various start up companies asking me how they can keep their label “clean” and ensure that their product has no preservatives, is all natural and uses fresh local ingredients—oh and they also want it to be affordable and shelf stable too!

Everyone wants their product to hit all the current trend buttons (natural, clean label, locally sourced, GMO Free, Organic) – but sometimes you have to compromise in order to ensure that you are creating something that is both safe and affordable. It also helps to understand that just because something sounds like it is not natural, doesn’t mean that it isn’t!

Let’s begin with mold inhibitors. If you are a baked goods manufacturer and plan to last on the shelf, your products will need to contain something to keep the fuzzy stuff off your brownies. Luckily, there are a wide variety of both natural and synthetic solutions. Potassium sorbate for example is a great yeast and mold inhibitor that is inexpensive and works in a wide variety of pH’s and food bases. This is not one of the natural choices, but it does the job! Sodium benzoate is also cheap, synthetic and keeps the bad bacteria at bay! As a more natural option called cultured dextrose (sold locally by Mezonni Foods), is a cleaner label bacteria inhibitor that is created via fermentation of milk and sugar with probiotic organisms and works in a wide variety of applications like salad dressings and cured meats, soups and dairy products. It will be pricier than the synthetic options, but allows you to maintain a “natural” statement on your label (assuming all other ingredients are natural as well). Of course, it is always an option to cook you product. Canned foods and jarred shelf stable sauces often just rely on heat as the preservation method. However. any thermal process would have to be approved by the FDA and local health inspector. Another option for preservation salt or sugar, these also inhibit bacteria by lowering the water activity of the product.

What about flavorings? No one in the specialty food industry wants to put artificial flavor in their products and that is understandable, but keep in mind natural flavors are more expensive and less concentrated than artificial, so to get the desired flavor impact you will have to use more of them. For instance, if you wanted to flavor a lemon cake, you may only need .2% artificial flavoring, but it will take 2 to 3% to achieve the same effect using natural flavors. So, what can you do? The answer is WONF (with other natural flavors), a specific blend of flavors similar to what you are looking for, but at a slightly lower cost. Also, be sure to talk to your flavor supplier typically they have common flavors sold in bulk.

Even starches can fall into the natural or not natural debate. If a starch is referred to as “modified food starch” it is not a natural thickener. You will need to ask your supplier for a natural “unmodified food starch. There are additional ways to thicken a product using dehydration or water evaporation using tomato paste (if your product is tomato based). There are even different gums and hydrocolloids you can experiment with. Most hydrolloids are natural like xanthan, gum Arabic, and gum acacia. Gum supplier websites like TICGums.com offer a wealth of information about gums and how to use them.

There are always natural alternatives in the world of ingredients and it’s just a matter of balancing out what you need with the right price point. Marijuana infused food products need to be well preserved and properly made to ensure they are safe and effective when consumed. Contact your local food scientist for assistance if you have any doubt about your food products safety before selling it at the next cannabis trade show!

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