Humans are frequently exposed to toxicants through food. A large number of naturally occurring contaminants are found in foods. When it is processed and prepared, substances are introduced which create chemical changes and introduce compounds not normally found in raw agricultural products. Furthermore, chemicals are added to achieve specific technical effects. Often, additional substances are introduced in very small amounts, and the majority are byproducts of agriculture and packaging. Additives are not considered “nutritional” even if they possess nutritive value.
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They are substances added to food to modify or impart flavor, enhance taste, appearance, or stability.
Over time, many different food additives have been developed both from natural and artificial sources in order to meet the needs of the food industry. Additives are needed to ensure processed food remains safe and in good condition.
The Difference Between Natural and Artificial
The main difference between natural and artificial additives is the origin of the chemicals. The natural additives must come from natural sources, such as plants or animals. Artificial additives are formulated in laboratories. It is possible that the actual chemicals in these two kinds of additives may be identical. However, the chemical structures of the individual molecules may be indistinguishable.
The "E" Number
The European Union uses an “E number” to identify all approved additives to regulate them and inform consumers. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted and extended this numbering scheme in order to identify all additives internationally, regardless of whether they have been approved for use.
Despite the fact that all E numbers are prefixed by “E”, countries outside Europe use only the number, regardless of whether they have been approved in Europe.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has listed these products as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS).
Food Additives Categories
The following summary lists the types of common additives and their use.
|Acids||Maintain the right acid level.||Citric Acid|
|Anticaking Agent||Prevent the formation of lumps.||Silicon Dioxide|
|Bulking Agents||Increase the volume of food.||Starch|
|Colors||Enhance or add color.||Carotenoids|
|Emulsifiers||Allow water and oils to remain mixed together, prevent separation.||Lecithin|
|Flavors||Add flavor.||Liquid Vanilla|
|Foaming Agents||Maintain uniform aeration of gases in foods.||Xanthan Gum|
|Gelling Agents||Alter the texture of foods through gel formation.||Pectin|
|Glazing Agent||Improves appearance and can protect food.||Stearic Acid|
|Humectants||Retain moisture.||Xanthan Gum|
|Leavening Agents||Promote rising of baked goods.||Baking Powder|
|Preservatives||Prevent food spoilage.||Vinegar|
|Raising Agents||Increase the volume of food through the use of gases.||Baking Powder|
|Stabilizers And Firming Agents||Maintain even food dispersion.||Pectin|
|Sweeteners||Add or increase the sweetness.||Sucrose|
|Thickeners||Enhance texture and consistency.||Cornstarch|
- Peter P, Roger C, Wally H, Chada R. Food additive safety: A review of toxicologic and regulatory issues. September 4, 2017.
- world health organization. Food additive. 31 January 2018.
- Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives & Colors. (IFIC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) November 2004; revised April 2010.
- Matthew Snelson. “Explainer: what are E numbers and should you avoid them in your diet?”.