Scientists at the University of Alberta Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science said they isolated the compounds from strains of mold fermented in sourdough bread and found they can preserve bread while not affecting its taste.
While artificial preservatives added to store-bought bread are safe to eat and do extend shelf life, they alter the flavor and give off a distinctive odor, Alberta researcher Michael Ganzle said.
The scientists were able to link natural compounds -- from a class known as hydroxy fatty acids -- to anti-fungal activity and to show they're formed naturally in the production of fermented foods.
"We were able to put known compounds into quite a new and exciting context," Ganzle said.
In addition to keeping bread fresh and tasty, the researchers said, the compounds have the potential to replace or complement fungicides used in treating crop seeds such as barley, wheat and canola, and in protecting crops.