What are the most common types of additives?

The additives you are most likely to see on food labels are:

  • Antioxidants
  • Preservatives
  • Colours
  • Emulsifiers
  • Stabilisers
  • Gelling agents and thickeners
  • Flavour enhancers
  • Sweeteners

Antioxidants along with preservatives help to maintain the shelf life of food. In other words, they prevent food from ‘going off’.

One of the most popular antioxidants is Vitamin C or E300 (ascorbic acid). Popular preservatives include sulphur dioxide (E220), nitrate and nitrite (E249 to E252).

Sugar, salt and vinegar are also used to preserve certain foods.

Colours can help to make food look more appealing although this view is not universally shared. Curcumin (E100) and caramel (E150a) are some of the most popularly used colours.

However, questions have been raised about the negative effect of food colours on children’s behaviour. For example, Tartrazine (E102) is used in a variety of foods and drinks but is often blamed for hyperactivity in children.

Emulsifiers, stabilisers and gelling agents and thickeners all help to bind certain ingredients together as well as ensuring a uniform texture. For example, low fat spreads and margarine.

Flavour enhancers and/or flavourings are as the name says: they help to enhance the flavour of a food. For example, flavour enhancers such as monosodium glutamate (E621) are often used in soups and sauces.

Flavourings on the other hand are added to a wide variety of foods in order to give a distinctive smell or taste.

Note: they do not have an E-number.

Sweeteners are often used instead of sugar and are commonly used in fizzy drinks, sports drinks, yoghurt and chewing gum. Some are more ‘intense’ than others and these include aspartame (E951), acesulfame-K (E950) and saccharin (E954). Their intensity means that they are much, much sweeter than sugar and are only used in small amounts.

Another form of nutritional labelling is that of Guideline Daily Amounts or GDA’s.

Food Labelling Guide Index:

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