Synthetic food additives generate a negative perception in consumers. This fact generates an important pressure on food manufacturers, searching for safer natural alternatives. Phytochemicals (such as polyphenols and thiols) and plant essential oils (terpenoids) possess antimicrobial activities that are able to prevent food spoilage due to fungi (e.g., Aspergillus, Penicillium) and intoxications (due to mycotoxins), both of which are important economic and health problems worldwide. This review summarizes industrially interesting antifungal bioactivities from the three main types of plant nutraceuticals: terpenoids (as thymol), polyphenols (as resveratrol) and thiols (as allicin) as well as some of the mechanisms of action. These phytochemicals are widely distributed in fruits and vegetables and are very useful in food preservation as they inhibit growth of important spoilage and pathogenic fungi, affecting especially mycelial growth and germination. Terpenoids and essential oils are the most abundant group of secondary metabolites found in plant extracts, especially in common aromatic plants, but polyphenols are a more remarkable group of bioactive compounds as they show a broad array of bioactivities.
Phytochemicals show antifungal activity, and they act in a synergistic manner.
Polyphenols are effective against important crop pathogenic fungi.
Most relevant antifungal thiols are allicin and its derivatives.