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Awareness of food additives

27 March 2009 1,018 views No Comment

Do you know what is really in the food you just ate?  Sometimes it can be a mystery.  With this article I hope to give you useful information so that you can be a more informed consumer. If you know what some of the additives are and why they are put into your food, then you can decide for yourself if this is something that is needed or if it was an additive that you would rather do with out.


Many food additives are considered safe by the USFDA.  Safe is defined by Congress as “reasonable certainty that no harm will result from use” of an additive.  Some substances that are found to be harmful to people or animals may be allowed, but only at the level of 1/100th of the amount that is considered harmful. This margin of safety is a protection for the consumer by limiting the intake of a dangerous substance”.  Quoted from USFDA Pamphlet on food additives.  Food additives are not all bad because of food additives, Rickets, a disease caused by Vitamin D deficiency has been eliminated in this country, as has all diseases caused by Vitamin C deficiency.


Food additives are added to our food for the following reasons:

  • To maintain food consistency, emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners and anti-caking agents fall within this category.  All of these work so that you have a product that flows or does not stick together.
  • To improve or preserve the nutrient value is the second reason.  Milk and Bread are fortified with vitamins and minerals to make them better for us.
  • To maintain the wholesomeness of foods. Preservatives fall in this category.  They are added to give bacteria a run for its money and to keep foods fresh and safe.
  • To control the acidity and alkalinity; to provide a certain taste; and to provide leavening so that biscuits and breads will rise.
  • To provide color and enhance flavor. These are used to improve them color and taste of our foods and can be simply the spices that are added.


Additives perform nine distinct functions: 

    1. As Nutrition Supplements Example: Vitamins, minerals, and amino acids may be used to improve general nutrition.
    2. As Coloring Agents Example: The coloring materials in foods may be intensified, modified, or stabilized by the addition of neutral coloring materials or certified food dyes.
    3. As Preservatives Example: Chemicals may be used to help prevent or retard microbiological spoilage and chemical deterioration.
    4. As Flavoring Agents: Whether they are natural or synthetic they are used to enhance flavors.
    5. As Agents to Improve Functional Properties Example: Chemicals in this classification act as thickening, firming agents.
    6. As Processing Aids Example: Sanitizing agents, metal binding compounds, anti-foaming agents, chemicals that prevent fermentation.
    7. As Moisture-Content Controls Example: Glycerin is approved for use in marshmallows as a humectant to retain soft texture Calcium silicate is frequently added to table salt to prevent caking due to moisture in the air. 
    8. As Acid-Alkaline Controls Example: Various acids, alkalis, and salts may be added to food to establish a desired pH.
    9. As Physiologic Activity Controls Example: the additives in this group are usually added to fresh foods to serve as ripeners or anti-metabolic agents.


Here are a list of some food additives and what they do so that when you are reading the labels of your foods you will have a handy reference: (Note this is a list of common additives.  As stated elsewhere, this website does not endorse any of these products.)

Nutritional Supplements:

Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, iron, calcium, and Vitamin D are all found in cereals, milk, and margarine.

Food Sweeteners: for sweetening

Acesulfame K  0 calorie sweetener

Aspartame  low calorie sweetner




Food Flavorings: The chemicals and what they taste like

Allylpyrazine:  Roasted nut 

Methoxypyrazines:  Earthy vegetables 

2-Isobutyl-3 Methoxypyrazine:  Green pepper 

Acetyl-L-Pyrazines:  Popcorn 

2-Acetoxy Pyrazine : Toasted flavours 

Aldehydes : Fruity, green 

Alcohols:  Bitter, medicinal 

Esters:  Fruity 

Ketones : Butter, caramel 

Pyrazines : Brown, burnt, caramel, 

Phenolics : Medicinal, smokey 

Terpenoids : Citrus, piney 

Food Acids: To help preserve food and stop the growth of bacteria but can also be used as a flavoring.

Acid  Source 

Citric Acid  Citrus fruits- lemon, orange 

Malic Acid  Apple 

Tartric Acid  Grapes, pineapples, potatoes, carrots 

Acetic Acid  Vinager 

Oxalic Acid  Tea, cocoa, pepper 

Tannic Acid  Tea 

Caffeotannic Acid  Coffee 

Benzoic acid  Cranberries, prunes and plums 

Butyric acid  decomposition of butter 

Lactic acid  Milk

Glazing agents: To provide a glossy or shiny appearance

Stearic acid or fatty acid 


White and yellow 

Carnauba wax 


Petrolatum or Petroleum jelly  

Chemical Preservtives: These are also used to preserve food

Benzoates (such as sodium benzoate, benzoic acid) 

Nitrites (such as sodium nitrite) 

Sulphites (such as sulphur dioxide), 

Sorbates (such as sodium sorbate, potassium sorbate

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