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Using raisins instead of sodium nitrite to preserve jerky for human consumption

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Raisins in your jerky soup, all of them doing loop-de-loop? Raisins instead of sodium nitrite or other preservatives may be the way to go. Sacramento's famous California raisins may be starring in a new role: keeping beef jerky tasty, more nutritious and safe, according to a new study from Oregon State University. You don't need to use sodium nitrite to preserve your jerky. You can use raisins instead.

When you put raisins into your jerky, one result is that there's less fat in the jerky. You now have more fiber and more antioxidants that you'd have just by using sodium nitrite as a preservative in the jerky. Also with the latest news about contaminated jerky made with imported ingredients, maybe it's time to make your own jerky for humans or pets.

Check out, "New Surge in Dog Deaths From Pet Jerky From China, FDA." You could use raisins as a preservative for making jerky for human consumption, for your family. But raisins/grapes are toxic to your dog. See, "Grape and Raisin Toxicity in Dogs | VCA Animal Hospitals." So don't use grapes or raisins in dog food or treats.

As far as preservatives used in making jerky for humans, food science researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) have determined that raisins are a great substitute for sodium nitrite, a preservative commonly used in beef jerky. Mark Daeschel, an Oregon State University (OSU) food scientist, is a specialist in natural "antimicrobials" - natural substances added to food that inhibit the growth of harmful microorganisms.

Sodium nitrite has been found to break down into cancer-causing chemicals during digestion

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, according to a May 9, 2003 news release, "Raisins may find use in jerky." The research results was published in a 2003 issue of the Journal of Food Science. Also see the abstract of another study on using raisins to preserve foods such as bread, in this other, later study, "Application of Raisin Extracts as Preservatives in Liquid Bread and Bread Systems."

In the raisins used as a preservative for making jerky study, it's noteworthy that raisins can kill some bacteria. "Raisins performed as an antimicrobial at least as well as sodium nitrite in jerky," said Daeschel, according to the May 9, 2003 news release, "Raisins may find use in jerky." 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.

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

"First, when you add raisins to jerky, it means there is less fat in the jerky," he said in the news release. "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?

Raisins are high in sugar and acidic which helps to inhibit the growth of microbes in the food

Raisins are high in sugar, which inhibits microbial growth associated with spoiled food and food borne illness, explained Daeschel in the news release. "The sugar makes the water in food less available to microbes." And raisins are acidic, which also discourages microbes.

With a grant from the California Raisin Board, Daeschel and his colleagues in OSU's Department of Food Science and Technology evaluated the taste, texture, antioxidant potential and antimicrobial properties of jerky made with ground beef. They compared these properties of the raisin jerky to typical commercial-type jerky made with sodium nitrite and jerky made without any preservatives.

In blind taste tests, a scientific panel in OSU's Sensory Research Laboratory in Corvallis evaluated the three types of jerky for flavor, texture, chewiness, overall liking and appearance

"Panelists ranked the 10 percent raisin jerky as superior to the nitrite control in terms of overall liking, flavor, texture, and appearance," said Daeschel in the news release. "They said sweet and tangy flavor imparted by the raisins was pleasing and that it made the jerky seem less salty."

Why did he use raisins?

"The raisin industry is always looking for new uses for its product," he explained in the news release. "We tried to come up with some type of food product whose flavor would be compatible with raisins. Then we came up with beef jerky. It's sweet and sour.

"Raisins have showed us they offer multiple benefits as an additive," added Daeschel in the news release. "People liked the texture and flavor, they inhibited bacterial growth and added nutrition. Plus raisins can be used in place of more harmful preservatives. Another benefit is that the high antioxidant levels in raisins may decrease off-flavors associated with oxidation or rancidity. We'd like to investigate that next." Daeschel thinks that raisins may also prove valuable in vegetarian products such as meatless burgers and sausage.

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