Food Additives

By- Meena Ganagani,Practicing Clinical Nutritionist,Mumbai.

Food additives have been used for centuries to improve and preserve the taste, texture, nutrition and appearance of food. Food additives and preservatives are used in today’s food supply to prevent foodborne illness, enable the transportation of food to areas that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, and for the efficient manufacture of products to consistently meet the established quality standards from batch to batch.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration evaluates the safety of food additives and determines how they may be used in the food supply. If an additive is approved, the FDA issues regulations that may include the types of foods in which it can be used, the maximum amounts to be used and how it should be identified on food labels. (1)

Direct food additives are those that are added to a food for a specific purpose in that food. For example, xanthan gum used in salad dressings, chocolate milk, bakery fillings, puddings and other foods to add texture is a direct additive. Most direct additives are identified on the ingredient label of foods.

Indirect food additives are those that become part of the food in trace amounts due to its packaging, storage or other handling. For instance, minute amounts of packaging substances may find their way into foods during storage. Food packaging manufacturers must prove to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that all materials coming in contact with food are safe before they are permitted for use in such a manner. (2)

Major Uses of Food Additives

Because food additives are closely regulated by the FDA, they cannot be used to cover up or deceive the consumer. The food additive intended for use in a product must have a purpose. Here are the major uses of food additives.


One of the main functions of additives is to preserve food. Without the addition of these additives, products would spoil at a more accelerated rate than would be expected by the consumer. Preservatives used to control microbial growth include organic acids and their salts, sulfites, nitrites, parabens, and others.


Enriching foods with nutrients is another function of food additives. Nutrients are added in amounts that do not exceed those found in the food before processing. Cereal products are a prime example of an enriched food to restore the original amount of nutrients prior to processing. Bread is another example in which the B-complex vitamins of thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3) are added to ensure proper proportions of these nutrients are present in the final product.

Color Improvement

The color of food may be natural or artificial. Natural plant pigments – such as carotene, chlorophyll, and lycopene – help impart hues of orange, green and red, respectively. Without adding vegetable dye, Cheddar cheese would not have its orange color. Animal pigments, including myoglobin and heme, exist and serve to incorporate color in products such as meat.

Improvement in Flavor

Flavoring agents are both natural and synthetic compounds to add flavor to food products. Examples of natural flavors include plant extracts, essential oils, herbs, spices and others. A variety of synthetic flavor additives are also available. Examples of synthetic flavors include methyl salicylate and benzaldehyde which give wintergreen and cherry flavoring, respectively.

Altering Texture

Modifying recipes can be a challenging project. Replacing ingredients to reduce fat and calories, for example, can drastically change the texture, mouth-feel and other sensory properties. The food manufacturer utilizes countless approved ingredients and chemicals to help modify texture. A simple compound, such as sucrose or table sugar, can be used in varying concentrations to achieve a variety of results.

Preparation Aid

Some food additives make food processing easier. Chemical defoamers, for example, may be used to minimize foaming in foods high in fat content. This problem can sometimes be controlled by making processing changes or by using mechanical defoaming equipment.



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