Additives perform a variety of useful functions in foods that are often taken for granted. Since most people no longer live on farms, additives help keep food wholesome and appealing while en route to markets sometimes thousands of
miles away from where it is grown or manufactured. Additives also improve the nutritional value of certain foods and can make them more appealing by improving their taste, texture, consistency or color.
Some additives could be eliminated if we were willing to grow our own food, harvest and grind it, spend many hours cooking and canning, or accept increased risks of food spoilage. But most people today have come to rely on themany technological, aesthetic and convenience benefits that additives provide in food.
Additives are used in foods for five main reasons:
To Maintain product consistency. Emulsifiers give products a consistent texture and prevent them from separating. Stabilizers and thickeners give smooth uniform texture. Anti-caking agents help substances such as salt to flow freely.
To improve or maintain nutritional value. Vitamins and minerals are added to many common foods such as milk, flour, cereal and margarine to make up for those likely to be lacking in a person's diet or lost in processing. Such fortification and enrichment has helped reduce malnutrition among the U.S. population. All
products containing added nutrients must be appropriately labeled.
To maintain palatability and wholesomeness. Preservatives retard product spoilage caused by mold, air, bacteria, fungi or yeast. Bacterial contamination can cause foodborne illness, including life-threatening botulism. Antioxidants are preservatives that prevent fats and oils in baked goods and other foods from
becoming rancid or developing an off-flavor. They also prevent cut fresh fruits such as apples from turning brown when exposed to air.
To provide leavening or control acidity/alkalinity. Leavening agents that release acids when heated can react with baking soda to help cakes, biscuits and other baked goods to rise during baking. Other additives help modify the acidity and alkalinity of foods for proper flavor, taste and color.
To enhance flavor or impart desired color. Many spices and natural and synthetic flavors enhance the taste of foods. Colors, likewise, enhance the appearance of certain foods to meet consumer expectations.
Examples of substances that perform each of these functions are provided in the chart "Common Uses of Additives."
Many substances added to food may seem foreign when listed on the ingredient label, but are actually quite familiar.
For example, ascorbic acid is another name for Vitamin C; alphatocopherol is another name for Vitamin E; and betacarotene is a source of Vitamin A. Although there are no easy synonyms for all additives, it is helpful to remember that all food is made up of chemicals. Carbon, hydrogen and other chemical elements provide the basic building
blocks for everything in life.