Invited review: Essential oils as modifiers of rumen microbial fermentation

S. Calsamiglia*, M. Busquet, P. W. Cardozo, L. Castillejos, A. Ferret

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

574 Citations (Scopus)


Microorganisms in the rumen degrade nutrients to produce volatile fatty acids and synthesize microbial protein as an energy and protein supply for the ruminant, respectively. However, this fermentation process has energy (losses of methane) and protein (losses of ammonia N) inefficiencies that may limit production performance and contribute to the release of pollutants to the environment. Antibiotic ionophores have been very successful in reducing these energy and protein losses in the rumen, but the use of antibiotics in animal feeds is facing reduced social acceptance, and their use has been banned in the European Union since January 2006. For this reason, scientists have become interested in evaluating other alternatives to control specific microbial populations to modulate rumen fermentation. Essential oils can interact with microbial cell membranes and inhibit the growth of some gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. As a result of such inhibition, the addition of some plant extracts to the rumen results in an inhibition of deamination and methanogenesis, resulting in lower ammonia N, methane, and acetate, and in higher propionate and butyrate concentrations. Results have indicated that garlic oil, cinnamaldehyde (the main active component of cinnamon oil), eugenol (the main active component of the clove bud), capsaicin (the active component of hot peppers), and anise oil, among others, may increase propionate production, reduce acetate or methane production, and modify proteolysis, peptidolysis, or deamination in the rumen. However, the effects of some of these essential oils are pH and diet dependent, and their use may be beneficial only under specific conditions and production systems. For example, capsaicin appears to have small effects in high-forage diets, whereas the changes observed in high-concentrate diets (increases in dry matter intake and total VFA, and reduction in the acetate to-propionate ratio and ammonia N concentration) may be beneficial. Because plant extracts may act at different levels in the carbohydrate and protein degradation pathways, their careful selection and combination may provide a useful tool to manipulate rumen microbial fermentation effectively. However, additional research is required to establish the optimal dose in vivo in units of the active component, to consider the potential adaptation of microbial populations to their activities, to examine the presence of residues in the products (milk or meat), and to demonstrate improvements in animal performance. © American Dairy Science Association, 2007.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2580-2595
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2007


  • Plant extract
  • Rumen fermentation


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