To help satisfy consumer demand for more natural food products, Texas A&M researchers are investigating dried plums as a meat preservative.

"We found that dried plums, when pureed, actually have a very good antioxidant capacity," says Jimmy Keeton, professor of animal science and leader of the research in College Station. "We've been experimenting with dried plums and plum juice in different types of products such as pre-cooked pork sausages, roast beef and ham to see which of those products will respond most effectively as antioxidants."

Precooked and uncured products, such as sausages and roast beef, respond the best.

Antioxidants retard the oxidation of fatty acids that make up fat. Unsaturated fatty acids can oxidize more, producing off-flavors and reducing shelf life.

In the past, processors used synthetic products called BHA—butylated hydroxyl anisole—and BHT—butylated hydroxyl toluene—to slow the process.

Dried plums can enhance the flavor of some products, frankfurters in particular, Keeton says.

Because dried plums are better known as prunes, some concerns about the laxative effects have been raised. Keeton says the dried plum puree is added in such small amounts that it should not be a concern to most people.