Food additives are substances added to food to preserve flavor or improve its taste and appearance. Some additives have been used for centuries—for example, preserving food by pickling (with vinegar), or salting, as with bacon, or using sulfur dioxide, in the case of some wines. With the advent of processed foods in the second half of the twentieth century, many more additives have been introduced, of both natural and artificial origin. There is, however, an ongoing debate about the health effects of a number of these additives. 
To regulate these additives, and inform consumers, each additive is assigned a unique number. Initially, these were the "E numbers" used in Europe for all approved additives. This numbering scheme has now been adopted and extended by the Codex Alimentarius Committee to internationally identify all additives, regardless of whether they are approved for use.
E numbers are all prefixed by "E," but countries outside Europe use only the number, whether the additive is approved in Europe or not. For example, acetic acid is written as E260 on products sold in Europe, but is simply known as additive 260 in some countries. Additive 103, alkanet, is not approved for use in Europe so does not have an E number, although it is approved for use in Australia and New Zealand.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) listed these items as "Generally recognized as safe" or GRAS, and these are listed under both their Chemical Abstract Services number and FDA regulation listed under the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.
Food additives can be divided into several groups, although there is some overlap between them.
- Food acids are added to make flavors "sharper," and also act as preservatives and antioxidants. Common food acids include vinegar, citric acid, tartaric acid, malic acid, fumaric acid, and lactic acid.
- Acidity regulators
- Acidity regulators are used to change or otherwise control the acidity and alkalinity of foods.
- Anticaking agents
- Anticaking agents keep powders such as milk powder flowing freely.
- Antifoaming agents
- Antifoaming agent s reduce or prevent foaming in foods.
- Antioxidants such as vitamin C act as preservatives by inhibiting the effects of oxygen on food, and are generally beneficial to health.
- Bulking agents
- Bulking agents such as starch are additives that increase the bulk of a food without affecting its nutritional value.
- Food coloring
- Colorings are added to food to replace colors lost during preparation, or to make food look more attractive.
- Color retention agents
- In contrast to colorings, color retention agents are used to preserve a food's existing color.
- Emulsifiers allow water and oils to remain mixed together in an emulsion, as in mayonnaise, ice cream, and homogenized milk.
- Flavors are additives that give food a particular taste or smell, and may be derived from natural ingredients or created artificially.
- Flavor enhancers
- Flavor enhancers enhance a food's existing flavors.
- Flour treatment agents
- Flour treatment agents are added to flour to improve its color or its use in baking.
- Humectants prevent foods from drying out.
- Preservatives prevent or inhibit spoilage of food due to fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms.
- Propellants are pressurized gases used to expel food from its container.
- Stabilizers, thickeners and gelling agents, like agar or pectin (used in jams, for example) give foods a firmer texture. They are not true emulsifiers, but they help to stabilize emulsions.
- Sweeteners are added to foods for flavoring. Sweeteners other than sugar are added to keep the food energy (calories) low, or because they have beneficial effects for diabetes mellitus and tooth decay.
- Thickeners are substances which, when added to the mixture, increase its viscosity without substantially modifying its other properties.
- ↑ CSPI's Guide to Food Additives Retrieved April 15, 2007.
- ↑ Food Intolerance Network Retrieved April 15, 2007.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Everything Added to Food in the United States. Boca Raton, FL: C.K. Smoley (c/o CRC Press, Inc.), 1993.
All links retrieved November 6, 2013.
|Carbohydrates • Colors • Enzymes • Fatty acids * Flavors • Food additives • Lipids • Minerals • Proteins • Vitamins • Water|
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