Essential oils or nature identical compounds? Pros and cons

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are widely used as flavorants and food preservatives since many centuries. More recently, further biological properties have been attributed to this wide category of molecules and compounds that make them suitable active ingredients in cosmetics and supplements as well as feed additives. Essential oils are extracted from plants and spices through distillation or mechanical methods and they are well known for their antimicrobial activity: for this reason, essential oils are studied as useful tools to reduce antibiotic treatments and antibiotic growth promoters in zootechnical animal species.

These natural extracts can be really useful but they also have some issues due to their composition. In fact, they can be highly variable in terms of composition in active ingredients, and this variability is mostly related to the geographical area of cultivation and its soil, the season, and the extraction method. At the same time, chemicals and pesticides used to cultivate plants and spices may be extracted along with the essential oil thus posing a threat of contamination both for humans and animals.

What about nature identical compounds?

To exploit the useful effects of essential oils while avoiding concentration variabilities, the interactions among their active ingredients, and the risk of harmful contaminants, we can use nature identical compounds (NIC). They are molecules chemically synthesized but identical to the ones we find in the respective natural extracted oil. NIC have different chemical nature: as an example, cinnamaldehyde (the major active ingredient of the cinnamon essential oil) is an aliphatic aldehyde, while thymol and carvacrol (present in the oregano essential oil) are phenolic compounds.

NIC are volatile and aromatic compounds, commonly used as a flavor and to improve palatability in feed and food. Based on the chemical structure, the antimicrobial mode of action is different. Anyway, independently from their target molecule on the bacterial cell, NIC are all pore-forming agents: they can disrupt the bacterial membrane integrity, with a direct bactericidal activity. For this reason, NIC are commonly used as feed preservatives.

The use of NIC as feed additives

The advantage of using NIC instead of the related essential oil is the certainty of the concentration and the purity of the compound. Once ingested, though, they are highly degraded in the stomach. To exploit their antimicrobial activity at the intestinal level, the NIC must be able to reach the lower part of the gut and therefore needs to be protected by digestion through microencapsulation techniques. There are different microencapsulation technologies and the most suitable ones to encapsulate NIC are lipid-based. Usually, the NIC are embedded in a vegetable lipid matrix that, upon contact with the host pancreatic secretions starts to gradually release the NIC from the microcapsules.

The Vetagro “plus”

Vetagro products include NIC instead of essential oils. This means that in AviPlus® there are thymol and vanillin, always pure, in a precise and consistent concentration among different batches of the product. These two NIC are proved to have a synergistic activity both as antimicrobials and anti-inflammatory agents, together with citric and sorbic acid contained in the same product.

AviPlus® has a vegetable fat matrix microencapsulation technology. The matrix protects the active ingredients through the first part of the digestive tract, allowing their release at the intestinal level. The species-specific granulometry of the product, which combines a Gaussian distribution of different particle sizes, ensures the release of the active ingredients along the whole intestinal tract. The smallest beadlets are degraded in the upper intestine, while the largest reach the distal intestinal tract. Vetagro microencapsulation technology also ensures the total exploitation of the active ingredients’ synergistic activity. The patented combination of organic acids and NIC is contained simultaneously in each microcapsule of the product.

In conclusion, the use of NIC allows a more precise inclusion of the active ingredient. The use of these single molecules allows the accurate evaluation of their activity, both alone and in combination with other molecules. AviPlus® specific formulation allows the best effect of the NIC in combination with organic acids along the whole intestinal tract.For more information: