Plant essential oils and allied volatile fractions as multifunctional additives in meat and fish-based food products: a review

Food Addit Contam Part A Chem Anal Control Expo Risk Assess. 2015;32(7):1049-64. doi: 10.1080/19440049.2015.1040081. Epub 2015 May 8.


Essential oils are concentrated aromatic volatile compounds derived from botanicals by distillation or mechanical pressing. They play multiple, crucial roles as antioxidants, food pathogen inhibitors, shelf-life enhancers, texture promoters, organoleptic agents and toxicity-reducing agents. For their versatility, they appear promising as food preservatives. Several research findings in recent times have validated their potential as functional ingredients in meat and fish processing. Among the assortment of bioactive compounds in the essential oils, p-cymene, thymol, eugenol, carvacrol, isothiocyanate, cinnamaldehyde, cuminaldehyde, linalool, 1,8-cineol, α-pinene, α-terpineol, γ-terpinene, citral and methyl chavicol are most familiar. These terpenes (monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes) and phenolics (alcohols, esters, aldehydes and ketones) have been extracted from culinary herbs such as oregano, rosemary, basil, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, mint, sage and lavender as well as from trees such as myrtle, fir and eucalyptus. This review presents essential oils as alternatives to conventional chemical additives. Their synergistic actions with modified air packaging, irradiation, edible films, bacteriocins and plant byproducts are discussed. The decisive roles of metabolic engineering, microwave technology and metabolomics in quality and quantity augmentation of essential oil are briefly mooted. The limitations encountered and strategies to overcome them have been illuminated to pave way for their enhanced popularisation. The literature has been mined from scientific databases such as Pubmed, Pubchem, Scopus and SciFinder.

Keywords: antioxidant; essential oil; heterocyclic amine; modified atmosphere packaging; pathogen control.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fish Products / analysis*
  • Food Additives / chemistry*
  • Food Analysis / methods*
  • Meat / analysis*
  • Plant Oils / chemistry*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / chemistry*


  • Food Additives
  • Plant Oils
  • Volatile Organic Compounds