Antifungal activity of essential oils evaluated by two different application techniques against rye bread spoilage fungi

J Appl Microbiol. 2003;94(4):665-74. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2672.2003.01896.x.


Aims: To study how antifungal activity of natural essential oils depends on the assay method used.

Methods and results: Oils of bay, cinnamon leaf, clove, lemongrass, mustard, orange, sage, thyme and two rosemary oils were tested by two methods: (1) a rye bread-based agar medium was supplemented with 100 and 250 microl l-1 essential oil and (2) real rye bread was exposed to 136 and 272 microl l-1 volatile oil in air. Rye bread spoilage fungi were used for testing. Method 1 proved thyme oil to be the overall best growth inhibitor, followed by clove and cinnamon. On the contrary, orange, sage and rosemary oils had very limited effects. Mustard and lemongrass were the most effective oils by the volatile method, and orange, sage and one rosemary showed some effects. Oil compositions were analysed by gas chromatography-mass spectrography.

Conclusions: Antifungal effects of the essential oils depended on the application method. Larger phenolic compounds such as thymol and eugenol (thyme, cinnamon and clove) had best effect applied directly to medium, whereas smaller compounds such as allyl isothiocyanate and citral (mustard and lemongrass) were most efficient when added as volatiles.

Significance and impact of the study: This study proves that the method used for screening essential oils as potential antimicrobials should correspond with the application sought.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antifungal Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bread / microbiology*
  • Food Microbiology
  • Food Preservation / methods
  • Fungi / drug effects*
  • Fungi / growth & development
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Least-Squares Analysis
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests / methods
  • Oils, Volatile / chemistry
  • Oils, Volatile / pharmacology*
  • Secale / microbiology*


  • Antifungal Agents
  • Oils, Volatile