AskDefine | Define preservative

Dictionary Definition

preservative adj : tending or having the power to preserve; "the timbers should be treated with a preservative" n : a chemical compound that is added to protect against decay or decomposition

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. (countable) any agent, natural or artificial that acts to preserve, especially when added to food
    Salt, sugar, and acid all act as preservatives when making pickles.


any agent, natural or artificial that acts to preserve


  1. tending to preserve
    The curators took preservative actions to maintain the ancient collection.



preservative p

Extensive Definition

A preservative is a natural or synthetic chemical that is added to products such as foods, pharmaceuticals, paints, biological samples, wood, etc. to prevent decomposition by microbial growth or by undesirable chemical changes.

Preservatives in wood

Preservatives may be added to wood to prevent the growth of fungi as well as to repel insects and termites. Typically arsenic, copper, chromium, borate, and petroleum based chemical compounds are used. For more information on wood preservatives, see timber treatment, lumber, and creosote.

Preservatives in foods

Preservative food additives can be used alone or in conjunction with other methods of food preservation. Preservatives may be anti-microbial preservatives, which inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi, or antioxidants such as oxygen absorbers, which inhibit the oxidation of food constituents. Common anti-microbial preservatives include calcium propionate, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, sulfites (sulfur dioxide, sodium bisulfite, potassium hydrogen sulfite, etc.) and disodium EDTA. Antioxidants include BHA and BHT. Other preservatives include formaldehyde (usually in solution), glutaraldehyde (kills insects), ethanol and methylchloroisothiazolinone. The benefits and safety of many artificial food additives (including preservatives) are the subject of debate among academics and regulators specializing in food science and toxicology.

Natural food preservation

Natural substances such as salt, sugar, vinegar, and diatomaceous earth are also used as traditional preservatives. Certain processes such as freezing, pickling, smoking and salting can also be used to preserve food. Another group of preservatives targets enzymes in fruits and vegetables that continue to metabolize after they are cut. For instance, citric and ascorbic acids from lemon or other citrus juice can inhibit the action of the enzyme phenolase which turns surfaces of cut apples and potatoes brown. Caution must be taken, however, since FDA standards do not currently require fruit and vegetable product labels to accurately reflect the type of preservative used in the products. Further, there is no current regulation requiring the inclusion of preservative chemical in labels at all; some potentially hazardous. While sometimes labeled as "natural" preservatives, most fruit and vegetable products contain carcinogenic chemicals.

Health concerns

Some modern synthetic preservatives have become controversial because they have been shown to cause respiratory or other health problems. Many studies point to synthetic preservatives and artificial coloring agents aggravating ADD & ADHD symptoms in those affected. Older studies were inconclusive quite possibly due to inadequate clinical methods of measuring offending behavior. Parental reports were more accurate indicators of the presence of additives than clinical tests. Several major studies show academic performance increased and disciplinary problems decreased in large non-ADD student populations when artificial ingredients, including preservatives were eliminated from school food programs. Allergenic preservatives in food or medicine can cause anaphylactic shock in susceptible individuals, a condition which is often fatal within minutes without emergency treatment.


preservative in Min Nan: Hông-hú-che
preservative in Czech: Konzervant
preservative in Danish: Konserveringsmiddel
preservative in German: Konservierungsmittel
preservative in Spanish: Conservante
preservative in French: Conservateur alimentaire
preservative in Galician: Conservante
preservative in Croatian: Konservansi
preservative in Hebrew: חומר משמר
preservative in Dutch: Conserveermiddel
preservative in Japanese: 防腐剤
preservative in Norwegian: Konserveringsmiddel
preservative in Polish: Konserwant
preservative in Portuguese: Conservante
preservative in Russian: Консерванты
preservative in Serbian: Конзерванси
preservative in Finnish: Säilöntäaine
preservative in Vietnamese: Chất bảo quản
preservative in Chinese: 防腐剂

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

backward, brine, conservational, conservationist, conservative, conservatory, conserving, die-hard, embalming fluid, fogyish, formaldehyde, keeping, nonprogressive, old-fashioned, old-fogyish, old-line, opposed to change, preservative medium, preservatory, preserving, protective, right-wing, salt, saving, standpat, ultraconservative, unprogressive, vinegar
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