The researchers believe that the gel works through a combination of mechanisms. Composed mostly of polysaccharides, the gel appears to act as a natural barrier to moisture and oxygen, which can speed food deterioration. But the gel also enhances food safety, the scientists say. Based on previous studies by others, Aloe vera gel appears to contain various antibiotic and antifungal compounds that can potentially delay or inhibit microorganisms that are responsible for foodborne illness in humans as well as food spoilage.
Although the health effects of Aloe gel on human consumption were not directly measured in this study, the coating is believed to be safe, the researchers say. They note that Aloe vera gel has been used as a functional ingredient in some foods and beverages for years. In addition to preserving table grapes, which are highly perishable, the gel can be applied to other fruits and vegetables, they say. Further testing of the gel on other types of produce is anticipated.
The gel also offers potential environmental benefits, the researchers add. It could provide a greener alternative to sulfur dioxide and other synthetic food preservatives that are commonly used on produce and increasingly the target of health concerns, they say.
Valero and his associates have filed a patent application in Spain for their gel. It could appear in the U.S. consumer market within a year, Valero estimates, noting that the gel is a natural product and is unlikely to face any major regulatory hurdles. Funding for this study was provided by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology and the European Commission via FEDER (European fund for regional development).