What Is Natamycin in Food: A Comprehensive Exploration of a Natural Antimicrobial Agent



Natamycin, a naturally occurring antifungal compound, has carved its niche in the realm of food additives due to its remarkable ability to inhibit the growth of spoilage microorganisms and extend the shelf life of various food products. In this comprehensive exploration, we delve into the multifaceted world of natamycin, uncovering its origins, properties, safety considerations, and the extensive range of applications it serves in the food industry.

Introduction to Natamycin

Natamycin, also known by its trade name Natacyn, is a polyene macrolide antifungal compound. It is naturally produced by certain strains of bacteria, specifically Streptomyces natalensis and related species. Discovered in the 1950s, natamycin's unique antimicrobial properties have made it an invaluable tool in the preservation of food products, particularly those susceptible to fungal spoilage.

Chemical Structure and Properties

Before delving into its applications in food, it's essential to understand the chemical structure and physical properties of natamycin. This knowledge sheds light on its functionality and versatility in food preservation.

Natamycin's chemical structure consists of a cyclic polyene macrolide backbone, featuring a series of conjugated double bonds. This structure is the key to its antifungal activity. It is practically insoluble in water but highly soluble in polar organic solvents. Natamycin is most stable in slightly acidic to neutral pH ranges and is heat-stable to a significant extent, allowing it to withstand the heat processing often encountered in food manufacturing.

Safety Considerations

Natamycin's safety profile is a critical factor in its widespread use as a food preservative. It has undergone extensive evaluations by regulatory authorities, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and other global agencies. Key safety considerations include:

  1. GRAS Status: Natamycin has Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status in the United States when used in accordance with good manufacturing practices (GMP). This designation underscores its safety when applied within specified limits.

  2. Low Toxicity: Natamycin exhibits low toxicity to humans and animals when consumed in food products. The minimal effective concentration required to inhibit fungal growth is well below levels considered harmful to health.

  3. No Residue: Unlike some chemical preservatives, natamycin leaves no harmful residues in treated foods. This feature aligns with the desire for clean-label products, which are free from synthetic additives.

  4. Allergenicity: Natamycin is not known to cause allergic reactions in consumers. This makes it suitable for use in food products intended for individuals with various dietary restrictions.

  5. No Impact on Beneficial Microbes: Natamycin is highly selective in its antifungal activity and does not affect beneficial microorganisms like lactic acid bacteria used in fermentation processes.

  6. Stability: Natamycin remains stable during food processing and storage, retaining its antimicrobial effectiveness over time.

  7. Regulatory Oversight: Regulatory agencies worldwide establish maximum allowable limits for natamycin in food products to ensure its safe use. Compliance with these limits is monitored and enforced.

what is natamycin in food

Natamycin serves as a valuable tool in the food industry primarily as a natural preservative and antimicrobial agent. Its multifaceted uses encompass a wide range of applications, contributing to food safety and quality. Some of the key functions and applications of natamycin in food additives include:

  1. Cheese Preservation: One of the most well-known uses of natamycin is in the preservation of cheese. Natamycin helps inhibit the growth of molds and yeasts on the cheese surface, extending its shelf life and maintaining product quality. It is particularly effective in protecting varieties of cheese such as Gouda, Edam, and Camembert.

  2. Bakery Products: Natamycin is employed in the bakery industry to prevent the growth of molds on baked goods such as bread, cakes, and pastries. This helps maintain the freshness and shelf life of these products.

  3. Meat and Poultry: In processed meat and poultry products, natamycin can be used to inhibit the growth of spoilage microorganisms. This is essential for products like deli meats and sausages.

  4. Dairy Products: Beyond cheese, natamycin finds applications in other dairy products, such as yogurt and sour cream, where it helps prevent surface spoilage and extend product shelf life.

  5. Dried and Dehydrated Foods: Natamycin is suitable for preserving dried and dehydrated foods, including dried fruits, vegetables, and spices. It prevents the growth of molds and yeasts that can compromise the quality of these products.

  6. Fruit Juices: In the production of fruit juices and nectars, natamycin can be added to inhibit yeast and mold growth, ensuring product safety and extending shelf life.

  7. Wine and Beer: Natamycin can be used in the brewing and winemaking industries to prevent spoilage caused by unwanted microorganisms. It helps maintain the quality and stability of alcoholic beverages.

  8. Snack Foods: Snack foods, such as potato chips and nuts, benefit from natamycin's ability to prevent mold growth, preserving product quality and enhancing shelf life.

  9. Packaging Materials: Natamycin can be incorporated into packaging materials, such as films and coatings, to provide an additional layer of protection against fungal contamination during storage and transportation.

Specific Applications

Let's delve into some specific applications of natamycin in food:

  1. Pizza: Natamycin is often used on pizza cheese to prevent mold growth, ensuring that the cheese remains visually appealing and safe for consumption during storage and distribution.

  2. Yogurt: In yogurt production, natamycin can be applied to the surface to inhibit mold and yeast growth. This extends the product's shelf life while preserving its creamy texture and flavor.

  3. Bread: Natamycin is used to prevent mold growth on bread and other baked goods. It helps maintain the freshness of these products, allowing for longer shelf life and reduced waste.

  4. Processed Meats: Deli meats and cured sausages are prone to spoilage by molds and yeasts. Natamycin is employed to ensure these products remain safe and palatable throughout their shelf life.

  5. Dried Fruits: Natamycin can be used in the production of dried fruits to prevent mold growth during drying and subsequent storage.

  6. Wine and Beer: In brewing and winemaking, natamycin can be employed to protect against spoilage microorganisms, ensuring the quality and stability of alcoholic beverages.

  7. Pickles: Natamycin can be used in pickling solutions to inhibit the growth of spoilage microorganisms and maintain the quality of pickled vegetables.

Challenges and Future Directions

While natamycin offers numerous benefits as a food preservative, there are some challenges and areas of ongoing research and development:

  1. Fungal Resistance: Some molds and yeasts have shown resistance to natamycin over time. Continued research is essential to develop strategies that can address this resistance effectively.

  2. Optimal Application Methods: Determining the most effective and efficient methods for applying natamycin in various food products is an ongoing challenge for manufacturers.

  3. Consumer Perceptions: As with any food additive, consumer perceptions and preferences play a significant role. Some consumers may prefer products with minimal or no additives, leading to the exploration of alternative preservation methods.

  4. Regulatory Evolution: Regulatory agencies continually evaluate the safety and efficacy of food additives, including natamycin. Changes in regulations and allowable limits may impact its use in the future.


Natamycin, a natural antifungal compound derived from bacteria, has emerged as a powerful tool in food preservation and safety. Its ability to inhibit the growth of molds and yeasts without leaving harmful residues makes it an attractive option for food manufacturers seeking to extend the shelf life of their products while ensuring quality and safety.

As the food industry continues to evolve and consumer preferences shift toward clean-label and minimally processed foods, natamycin's role as a natural preservative becomes increasingly important. Ongoing research and development efforts are likely to lead to improved applications and a deeper understanding of its potential in safeguarding a diverse range of food products.

In summary, natamycin in food is a testament to the ingenuity of utilizing natural compounds to enhance food safety and quality, contributing to the availability of safe and enjoyable food products on a global scale.

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