Definition of Additive

A food additive is any functional substance added to food products during the processing, storage, or packaging for the purpose of changing its characteristic in some way. Normally, an additive is not consumed on its own as a food or used as an ingredient in food products, but it can be added in small quantities to foods during the processing process. By and large, the intent is for the additive to improve the food in some way by providing better consistency, aroma, texture, color, nutrition, flavor, or shelf life.

There are both direct additives and indirect additives. Direct additives are purposefully added to a product as noted above. Indirect additives, on the other hand, migrate into food products during processing, packaging, or growing and are generally there in small quantities. Direct additives have been in use for some centuries, with vinegar for pickling and salt for preserving some of the earliest employed by humans to preserve food. It wasn’t until the advent of processed foods in the 20th century that additives became more widely used.

Depending on where you live, food labeling may or may not list additives for the products that you purchase. In many countries, such as the US, Canada, and the UK, additives are each given a unique number to identify them on product labeling.

Food additives can be categorized into may different groups:

  • Acids and acid regulators: To sharpen flavors, improve shelf life, and add antioxidant properties
  • Anticaking agents: To prevent powdery products from becoming lumpy
  • Antifoaming agents: Prevents foods from foaming
  • Antioxidants: Foods that help to reduce the effects of oxidation
  • Bulking agents: Added to increase the bulk of a food product
  • Food colorings and color retention agents: To enhance color and prevent fading
  • Emulsifiers: Prevent oils and water from separating during storage and use
  • Flavorings and flavor enhancers: Additives that boost a food’s flavor, aroma, or add unique flavor
  • Flour treatment agents: Specific to flour, these improve the results when flour is used for baking
  • Humectants: Prevent foods from drying out
  • Preservatives: Slow or prevent food products from spoiling due to bacteria, microorganisms, or fungi
  • Propellants: Used to help propel foods from packaging
  • Stabilizers: Improve a food product’s texture
  • Sweeteners: Increase a food product’s sweetness, some of which also reduce the product’s overall caloric load

Some scientists and foodies have questioned the wisdom of using additives in foods due to the concern that they may not have been tested adequately for their impact on human health.

Additive Articles

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