Food Additives are used in the production and processing of food and beverage products for a range of reasons. I find that many consumers don’t understand why these ingredients are added to their foods or the purpose they serve. Some of these additives have been used for hundreds of years in foods, for example salt to preserve bacon, and vinegar to preserve vegetables such as pickled onions or cucumbers. Other ingredients are more modern and are designed and used for a specific purpose.
Food additives are substances that aren’t eaten as foods themselves, they are not normally used as an ingredient of a food but they are added to foods to perform a technological function in the finished product. An example of an additive preforming a technological function in a finished product would be a colour, preservative, or flavour in soft drink for example.
Food Additives are classified according to the function they perform in the finished product. Each group of Food Additives is discussed below in their specific categories. Some ingredient may perform more than one of these functions. Our FSANZ Food Standard Code governs what food ingredients can be used as food additives and the permitted levels they can be used at. The Standard that covers food additives is Standard 1.3.1 of the Food Standards Code. A list of the technological purposes performed by substances used as food additives is detailed in Schedule 14 which can be found the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website – http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/code/Pages/default.aspx
Each food additive has a unique number which is referenced in the ingredient listings found on all food and beverage labels. This helps consumers identify exactly what ingredients are in their products. A list of these permitted food additives with their additive numbers is listed in Schedule 16, which can be found in the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website link above.
There are many food additives used in processsed foods and beverages but for the purpose of this Blog I’ll only specify specific additives of interest. If there are any other food additives you would like more information on, please let me know.
Food Acids – Food Acids are used for flavour in a food or beverage product. Ingredients used to provide acid flavours to foods include Acetic Acid 260 (Vinegar), Citric Acid 330 (Citrus Fruits), Lactic Acid 270 (Dairy acid), Malic Acid 296 (Fruit Acid), Phosphoric Acid 338, and Tartaric Acid 334 (Found in grapes, known as Cream of Tartar).
Acidity Regulators / Alkalis – Acidity Regulators or Alkalis are used for flavour and to alter the pH of a food or beverage product. By using these products the pH of a food or beverage can be adjusted to be more acidic (sour) or alkaline (bitter). This makes the food environment more difficult for pathogenic bacteria and moulds to grow which can extend the shelf life of a product. pH is the measure of a foods acidity or alkalinity. To give you something to use as a measure, lemon juice is around a pH of 2.2. White Vinegar pH 2.4, Yoghurt can vary from around pH 3.0 to 5.0, Milk is around pH of 6.5.
Anti-Caking Agents – Anti-Caking agents are used to prevent lumping, allowing free flow and easy handling of hydroscopic ingredients (ingredients that attract water from the air and become wet, sticky or lump for example icing sugar). They function by absorbing moisture or coating particles to prevent the absorption of moisture in products that are hydroscopic. This prevents lumping in products such as spice mixes, salt, powdered beverage mixes, cake and bakery premixes, icing sugars, grated cheese, and other dry fine powdered ingredients.
Antioxidants – Simply put antioxidants prevent the oxidation of other molecules in foods and beverage products. They help to extend the shelf life of processed products by retarding the oxidative deterioration of a food. This maintains the quality of the product over its shelf life (e.g. preventing fresh cut fruits such as apple from browning). Antioxidants are an important ingredient in fats and oils, which when exposed to oxygen begin to go rancid giving off flavours and odours which are not pleasant. Antioxidants help to maintain the stability of these products over their shelf life. Ingredients used as Antioxidants can include Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acid (300) or Tocopherol’s which are forms of Vitamin E.
Bulking Agents – Bulking agents or fillers are used in foods to provide volume. A perfect example of this is the use of sugar in baking or confectionary. The sugar contributes not only sweetness but also to the finished volume of the product. When replacing sugar in no or low sugar food and beverage products, the manufacture needs to consider how to replace the volume of sugar as well as the sweetness.
Colours – Colours for the addition to food or beverages is regulated by our FSANZ Food Standard Code. Colours are used to add or restore colour to foods. Like all food additives they must pass through a safety assessment by FSANZ before they can be used in food or beverage products sold in Australia. Colours are sold in different forms depending on the application and can either be artificial, natural or be sourced from Colouring Foods.
Colours are available in pastes, liquids, powder, concentrates, oils and gels with differing shades and colour concentrations. Further processing of foods can have an impact on the finished colour of a product, expecially when using natural colours. Artificial colours are very stable and provide a vibrant shade and intense colour in processed foods and beverages. Natural colours however are not as stable and temperature, light and the pH of a product during procesing can alter the shade or destroy the colour completely. Australian food and beverage manufacturers have been working diligently to replace artificial colours in foods and beverages with natural options.
Artificial Colours are manufactured using chemicals. They are very stable in low acid products such as soft drink and products that are heated to high heat such as boiled lollies. There are 14 artificial colours listed for use in Australia.
Natural Colours are substances found in edible sources in nature such as plants, fruits, vegetables and minerals which impart a colour to a food or beverage product. These colours are obtained from their source material by either physical and/or chemical extraction to obtain the exact pigment required. An example of a Natural colour is a burnt sugar caramel colour which is produced by the controlled burning of sugar to obtain a caramel for colouring purposes.
Colouring Foods are defined as food ingredients used for colouring purposes. They are sourced from a range of edible plant sources (usually fruits and vegetables) and are foods that are ingredients but also provide a colour. An example of this would be the use of Cocoa powder added for chocolate flavour in a chocolate cake. The cocoa powder provides the chocolate flavour but also provides a brown colour to the product. Another example is ground turmeric powdered added to a curry powder. It is added for flavour, but also contributes colour to the curry powder.
Emulsifiers – Emulsifiers are substances added to food and beverage products that allow two molecules that usually remain separate, such as oil and water, to blend together into a stable emulsion. Emulsifiers are used to help prevent separation of these ingredients over the shelf life of the product making it stable. Without them the different components in the food would separate making the food unappealing for use, e.g. split mayonnaise. Foods that consist of such emulsions include butter, margarine, salad dressings, mayonnaise, and ice cream. Naturally occurring emulsifiers including different types of Tocopherols which are forms of Vitamin E and Lecithin found in the yolk of eggs (more information can be found on the Egg page).
Firming Agents – Firming agents contribute to the firmness of a food or they react with other ingredients such as gelling agents to produce a stronger gel.
Flavour Enhancers – Ingredients used as Flavour Enhancers enhance the flavour or aroma profile of the finished product.
Flavours – Flavours do not include herbs, spices or intense sweeteners. Flavours cannot be consumed alone as they are highly concentrated ingredients added to food and beverage products in small amounts for flavouring purposes. Flavours are available in oils, liquids, powders, concentrates and extracts.
Flavour categories are either artificial or natural. There is a huge push in Australia from Food and Beverage Manufacturers to move to Natural Flavours and away from Artificial flavours depending on the application and the market.
Foaming Agents – Foaming Agents are used in aerated food products to help evenly disperse gas bubbles throughout the product.
Gelling Agents or Thickeners
Thickeners are used to increase viscosity of a food to achieve a consistency that is desired by that food or beverage product. Examples of this is the viscosity of pouring custard or a soup.
Gelling agents modify the texture of a product by forming gels. They are used in all types of applications in the food industry for thickening and viscosity, to add mouthfeel, for stability, to emulsify or to suspend particles (such as cocoa powder in chocolate milk or herbs in your favourite French dressing), to improve yields (commonly used in hams and bacon to hold onto water) and to prevent syneresis or water coming out of finished products (such as sliced ham or bacon). Some of the ingredients below can be used for both purposes.
Vegetable Gums or Hydrocolloids
There are several sources of Gums or Hydrocolloids from both plant and seed sources that are used to thicken or provide viscosity to food and beverage products. These disperse into water forming pastes or gels depending on their individual characteristics and they are usually classified depending on their solubility in cold water or hot water. Gums are mostly carbohydrate based and can be used instead of starches in formulations as they may be more cost effective depending on the type of food or beverage. Each gum has different water holding capabilities and form different types of gels in different applications. The most common gums used in Australia are listed below –
- Alginate or Sodium Alginate (401) – Sodium alginate is extracted from Brown Seaweed and dissolves easily in cold water. It only requires the presence of calcium ions to set a gel and the amount of calcium ions available determines the strength of the gel. Alginate is used as a thickener and emulsifier and is commonly used in dairy based products to stabilise ice cream, yoghurt, custards and cheese.
- Agar Agar (406) – Agar Agar has been used for centuries in Asian desserts and is extracted from red algae. It only becomes functional at boiling temperature and forms a firm gel as it cools. Agar is used as a base for jelly desserts especially Asian styled jellies. It is also used to thicken and provide mouthfeel in jelly, custards and puddings.
- Carrageenan (407, 407a) – Carrageenan is extracted from either brown or red seaweed and is used for gelling, thickening and stabilising food and beverage products. There are three types of Carrageenan, each with their own unique characteristics.
- Kappa – In the presence of calcium Kappa carrageenan forms a strong rigid gel on cooling. In the presence of potassium it forms a firm and elastic gel. Kappa carrageenan is commonly used in ham, smallgoods and poultry products to bind water and increase yields. It works by setting a firm gel in the product for slicing and shaving, and also helps prevent purge or the presence of a small amount of watery substance, forming at the bottom of packs of sliced deli meats. It is also used as a gelatine replacer in vegan jelly desserts and gummy confectionary.
- Iota – Iota carrageenan when used in the presence of Calcium ions, forms a soft gel. It is used to help with freeze/thaw stability of a product and can be found in low fat ice creams, puddings, custards and chocolate mousse. It’s also added to suspend particles such as cocoa powder in flavoured chocolate milk preventing it from forming a layer at the bottom of the bottle.
- Lambda – Lambda carrageenan doesn’t form a gel as such and is used as a thickener. It is used to suspend herbs and particulates in dressings, it provide texture and mouthfeel in products such as plant based milks.
- Locust Bean (410) – Locust Bean Gum or LBG comes from the seeds of the Carob Tree. Used as a thickener and stabiliser. It is cold water soluble and doesn’t form a gel until heated. The gels it does form however, are only soft gels, not hard firm gels. LBG is used in products with high acid as it is acid tolerant and thick bodied when hot. Used in dairy products such as yoghurt, cream cheese, custards, sorbets, ice cream, dressings etc.
- Guar Gum (412) – Guar Gum is sourced from the Guar Bean. It is commonly used in foods to control ice crystal growth in frozen ice cream, sorbets and frozen desserts, for stabilising, emulsifying and thickening in dairy products such as cottage cheese, yoghurt, custard and puddings, for binding in Gluten Free flours and to provide mouthfeel and viscosity to plant based milks. It imparts stability, particle suspension and replaces starch in salad dressing and can emulsify oil and water.
- Tragacanth (413) – Tragacanth is produced from the sap of certain plants and is fully soluble in cold water but becomes thicker over time. It is commonly used in sugar paste for floral arrangements as it provides flexibility to the fondant.
- Gum Arabic (Acacia Gum) (414) – Sourced from the sap of a various species of acacia tree. Primarily Gum Arabic is used as a stabiliser, emulsifier and to prevent clouding in soft drinks. It’s also used as a thickening agent in icings and chewing gum, and to increase gloss and as a glazing agent in coatings for confectionary products.
- Xanthan Gum (415) – Xanthan gum is produced from the fermentation of sugars. It is used to provide texture, to stabilise emulsions and suspend particles. Used in sauces, toppings, sorbets, ice creams, soups, dressings and in gluten free baking mixes with other gums to mimic gluten.
- Gellan Gum (418) – Gellan gum is produced by bacterial fermentation. It can be used at low levels to create a fluid gel that is stable when the temperature changes. 2 types are available, one that produces a brittle gel and one that produces a soft, elastic gel. It is used to bind, stabilise, thicken, emulsify and provide texture to food products. It’s commonly used in plant based beverages to keep proteins in suspension and in yoghurts or desserts to provide a creamy mouthfeel as it doesn’t form a firm gel.
- Pectin (440) – Pectin is commonly commercially extracted from Citrus Fruits or Apple by products from juicing. These fruits contain a naturally high level of naturally occurring Pectin. Pectin will only gel in the presence of sugar and acid and so are used mainly in jams, and marmalades as a gelling agent. You can purchase Jam Sugar for making these products which has additional Pectin added to boost the naturally occurring levels found in the fresh fruits. Pectin can also be found in bakery fillings, fruit preparations, desserts, gelatine free gummy confectionary and as a stabiliser in juices and milk drinks.
- HPMC (Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose) (464) – HPMC is a chemically modified cellulose product used to suspend particles in dressings, to thicken and stabilise emulsions.
- CMC (Sodium Carboximethyl Cellulose) (466) – CMC is a chemically modified cellulose product sourced from soft wood pulp. It’s used as a thickener for viscosity, and is used to stabilise emulsions. Used in ice cream, cordials, ready to roll icing and in gluten free bakery products and premixes.
For more information please see the links below –
Gelatine – Gelatine is a food extracted from animal collagen. It’s used as a thickener, texturiser and stabiliser. Gelatine hydrates in hot water and after cooling sets into a firm gel. It is commonly used in gummy candies, foam based confectionary such as marshmallows, dips, desserts and ice cream. It has the unique ability to melt in the mouth when consumed. Easily found in local supermarket it comes in granules, sheets and powders.
Native and Modified Starches –
Native Starches are naturally occurring in plants such as wheat, maize, potato, rice or tapioca. They are extracted and used for thickening and stability in food and beverage products. Due to their native cell structure they have low or limited tolerance to processing conditions such as shear, movement between high and low temperatures (for example boiling a sauce for adding to a frozen meal), pH (either acid or alkaline), and the time held in these states.
Modified starches are starches from the same sources (usually wheat, maize, potato, rice or tapioca) that have been chemically, physically or enzymatically modified to enhance their ability to tolerate shear, temperature, time and pH. These changes provide the starch with more tolerance to surviving the harsh conditions of processing. Starches can also be modified to provide instant viscosity (such as in the case of instant starches for soups and gravies), to change their texture or increase or decrease the strength of their gelling characteristics. These starches require an E-Number to help identify them and are not considered natural.
Starches perform a range of functions in foods including stabilising, emulsifying and thickening, providing body and mouthfeel to a product. Starches are commonly found in food products such as bakery fillings, custards, instant sauces, gravies, soups, confectionary, yoghurts and dairy products and salad dressing for this purpose,
Glazing Agents – Glazing Agents are used when adding a coating to the surface of a food. This includes the hard shell onto a confectionary product or the wax coating applied to the surface of fruits.
Humectant – Humectants are added to food products to reduce moisture loss.
Preservative – Preservatives are added to food and beverage products to prevent or delay spoilage of the food by micro-organisms such as bacteria and moulds. This extends the shelf life of the product, keeping the food or beverage safe to consume.
Raising Agent – Raising agents are ingredients that produce gas to increase the volume of a food. Ingredients that perform this function in bakery products include yeasts or chemical raising agents such as baking powder. These are detailed below.
Yeast – Yeast is a single celled organism and is classified as a fungus. Yeasts have been used for centuries for the manufacture of bread and the fermentation of beer and wine.
In beer and wine manufacture specific types of Yeasts convert the available sugars in the grape juice into ethanol. Traditionally the yeasts used were those that naturally grew on the skins of the grapes. In modern day production though, specific yeast strains are added to control the fermentation, and flavour profile of the finished wine or beer.
In yeast raised bakery products, yeast is used to produce Carbon Dioxide gas (CO2) which becomes trapped in the gluten structure of the bread dough. Once flour is mixed with water, the naturally occurring enzymes in the flour break down the starch bonds into simple sugars. Over time and at the right temperature for yeast fermentation (around 35c) the yeast cells ferment these sugars producing CO2 gas and alcohol. These CO2 gas bubbles get bigger and expand during the proofing stage and the trapped gas bubbles expand further during baking as the heat rises. This continues until the dough reaches 60c, which is the point that the yeast cells are killed and they cease producing CO2. The residual alcohol is burnt off during baking.
Depending on the product being made and the manufacturer’s equipment, different types of Yeasts can be purchased in several different forms including dried or instant active yeast, compressed yeast and liquid yeast.
For more information on yeasts please see –
Chemical Raising Agents – Chemical leavening is quicker than yeast fermentation and allows manufacturers to produce doughs or batters that produce CO2 gas immediately. There are a number of raising agents used by Bakeries but ingredients commonly used in bakery include Bi-Carb Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) or Baking Powder (Starch, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate or SAP (450) and Sodium Bicarbonate (500)). When the Sodium Bicarbonate reacts with an acid in the presence of water it produces CO2 gas bubbles which expand during heating allowing the product to rise.
Sodium Bicarbonate or Bi-Carb Soda by itself is used in recipes that have an acid ingredient such as milk, or buttermilk. Baking Powder is a blend of the acid SAP and Sodium Bicarbonate so it already contains the acid so doesn’t require additional acid ingredients for the reaction to occur.
Stabilisers – Stabilisers help to maintain the dispersion of substances in solid and semi-soli foods.
Sweeteners – Sweeteners are used to replace sugar in food and beverage products. They are only used to levels to achieve the sweetness usually provided by adding sugar but they don’t significantly contribute to the available energy of the product. For more information on Sweeteners, please see the Sugar page of this Blog.
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