Food additives are substances added to food to help give them a better taste or to preserve them so that they are safe to eat for a certain period of time. Some additives are simply for appearance and make the food look appetizing. People have used additives to help preserve food for hundreds of years, such as adding salt to pickle the food, or using sulfur dioxide in wines. Vinegar is another additive that has traditionally been used in preserving food and gives it a distinctive taste.
With the development of technology, more and more additives have become available for food manufacturers to use. In order to ensure that the foods using these additives are safe for human consumption, most world governments have put regulations in place to set a standard for how much of an additive can be used and publishes a list of approved additives. All of the additives are numbered and in European countries they also have the prefix “E”.
The various types of food additives are:
Acids commonly used as food additives include vinegar, lactic acid, tumeric acid, and citric acid. They give the food a shaper taste. However, some foods are naturally sharp tasting and need to have acidity regulators added to help reduce the sharpness.
Milk powders used in baking will stick together unless anticaking agents are added to them. Then some foods foam when water is added and therefore need antifoaming agents to help control this activity. Bulking agents help to increase the bulkiness of food, but they do not add any nutritional value. Adding antioxidants, such as Vitamin C, does increase the nutritional value and are very beneficial for health.
Food coloring helps to add color to foods that may lose their natural color when cooked or to increase the appearance of the food, but does not have any effect on the taste. If the food has a natural color, however, color retention agents to help preserve this color.
In foods, such as ice cream, where oil and water must be mixed together, emulsifiers help make this mixing possible. Preservatives keep foods from spoiling due to bacteria or fungi and help them stay fresh for longer periods of time than would be possible without the additives.
Flavors are additives used to enhance the taste of food, especially when the natural state of the food has a bland taste. Sweeteners help food taste sweet and thickeners help give foods, such as sauces, the thickness they need.
Each of the food additives has a specific purpose. Some of the foods you eat may have two or three additives and some may only have one.