Hundreds of chemical additives are incorporated into foods directly or migrate into foods from the environment or packaging materials. A food additive can be sometimes defined as a substance whose intended use will lead to its incorporation into the food or will affect the characteristics of the foods.
These additives generally provide some types of benefits to the food producer, processor or consumer. For the consumer, additives can improve organoleptic qualities of foods, improve the nutritive value, or ease the preparation of ingredients and meals. Typical additive benefits to the food producer or processor include improving product quality, safety and variety.
Additive may found in varying quantities in foods, perform different functions in foods and ingredients, and function synergistically with other additives. Their functions can usually be classified as one of the following:
- To maintaining or improve nutritional quality
- To maintain or improve product safety or quality
- To aid in processing or preparations
- To enhance sensory characteristics
Additives that affect nutritional quality are primarily vitamins and minerals. In some foods, these may be added to enrich the food or replace nutrients that may have been lost during processing. In other foods, vitamins and minerals may be added for fortification in order to supplement nutrients that may often be lacking in human diets.
Preservatives or antimicrobial substances are used to prevent bacterial and fungal growth in foods. These additives can delay spoilage or extend the shelf life of the finished product. Antioxidants are additives that also can extend the shelf life of foods by delaying rancidity or lipid oxidation.
Additives that maintain product quality may also ensure food product safety for the consumer. For, example, acids that may be added to prevent the growth of microorganisms that cause spoilage may also prevent the growth of microorganisms that can cause foodborne illness.
Additives that are used as processing or preparation aids, usually affect the texture of ingredients and finished foods. Some of these are classified as emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners, leavening agents, humectants and anti-caking agents. Chemical in this group of food additives are also used to adjust the homogeneity, stability and volume of foods.
The fourth major, function of food additives is to enhance the flavor or color of foods to make them more appealing to the consumer. Flavoring chemicals may be used to magnify the original taste or aroma of food ingredients or to restore flavors lost during processing. Natural and artificial coloring substances are added to increase the visual appeal of foods, to distinguish flavors or foods, to increase the intensity of naturally occurring color or to restore color lost during processing.
Functions of Food Additives