A food additive is any chemical added to food that is either supposed to preserve or enhance its flavor. Here's a listing of some of the types of food additives.

  • Flavorings - designed to give foods a more "acceptable " taste
  • Stabilizers/Gelling Agents/Thickener -designed to keep foods in a "set state", ie: jams, jellies, baby food
  • Colorings -designed to make food more appealing to consumer - 90% do not contain any flavor or nutritional value.
  • Sweeteners -designed to make foods more palatable>
  • Aroma Enhancers -designed to enhance the odors of foods
  • Preservatives -designed to maintain freshness and prevent spoilage. Extends shelf life and protects the foods natural colors
  • Acids/Bases - designed to provide foods with a tart flavor, used in pickling
  • Antioxidants - designed to reduce the rancidity in fats and oils
  • Taste Enhancers -designed to bring out flavors in certain foods -see MSG
  • Humectants - designed to control the humidity of a food
  • Anti -Caking Agents - designed to keep salt and any powders free flowing
  • Firming/Crisping Agents - designed for use in processed fruits and vegetables
  • Foaming Agents - designed for use in whipping creams
  • Emulsifiers -designed to help evenly mix small particles of one liquid with another.

    Here's a listing of some of the more prevalent (popular?) food additives in use today

    Beta Carotene ( a precursor to vitamin A)

    A natural substance found in all plants and animals. Has a yellowish-orange color and is especially prevalent in carrots and squash. Also used a coloring agent in other foods and cosmetics.


    > Extracted from pineapples and used in meat tenderizers. Very good as a protein digesting enzyme. As a matter of fact, if you let a piece of meat sit in bromelin for an extended period, you'd be able to drink it!!!!

    Citrate Salts

    Used mostly in cheese spreads and pasteurized processsed cheeses. Has been described as masking lab results for pancreatic and liver functions.

    Citrus Red #2 Recently discontinued but was used for coloring Florida oranges. The dye remained in the peel and did not enter the pulp...Good thing, if one was to injest this baby in quantity, research shows that they might experience some serious visual, circulatory and urinary system problems.


    Lovely, most of the colorings that were used were derived from coal tars. Another word is carcinogen. As time goes on, more and more of these are being tested and subsequently banned. Gelatin Derived from boiling the skin, muscle and hoofs of animals. Mainly used a thickener and stabilzer for fruit gelatins (read Jello). Rumored to help strengthen, yes that's right.....fingernails.

    Methylene Chloride

    Actually a gas used in the decaffeination process for coffee. Some residue may remain in the final product. As luck would have it, coffee companies do not have to disclose the method they used in the decaffeination process.


    Alias, monosodium glutamate. Has no taste on its own but instead has the ability to bring out the natural flavors of other foods as well as helping foods blend better with each other. How it does this, I'll leave to the more chemically inclined branch of noders. All I know is that it gives me headaches after consuming it in Chinese food.


    Discovered to be one of the most dangerous additives used in foods. Found in almost all processed meats such as luncheon meats, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, smoked fish and canned meats. The food industry claims that they are mainly used for cosmetic purposes, to retard bacterial growth and reduce the risk of botulism


    Extracted from berries and some fruits. It is an alcohol that usually produces a sweet taste and is used mostly in dietetic products as a replacement for sugar. Is also used as a food binder, thickener, texturing agent, humectant and food stabilzer.


    Used as an anti-browning agent. Three of the more common are sodium, potassium and ammoniom. Can be used on most any food except meats or food with a high vitamin B content. Used in salad bars to prevent fruits and lettuce from browning and to enhance crispness. Research that sulfites might be responsible for some acute asthmatic attacks.

    Sulpher Dioxide

    Formed in the buring of sulpher. Basically a food bleach, preservative, anti oxidant and anti browning agent. Tends to destroy vitamin A and should not be used on meats or veggies with a high vitamin A content.
  • All right, let's try this again.

    A food additive is a substance that is intentionally added to a food for a wide variety of reasons. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies food additives according to the purpose for which they are added, which are:

    1. to maintain or improve nutritional quality
    2. to maintain quality and freshness
    3. to aid in the processing and preparation of food
    4. to make food more appealing

    For these seemingly simple tasks, the FDA allows some 2,800 substances to be added to foods. (Lots more inadvertantly find their way in during processing and packaging, but these aren't considered food additives because they aren't added intentionally.) To get an additive added to the list can take years and many tests involving animals, which are subjected to these substances to find out if they cause cancer or birth defects. Poor animals.

    Two categories of food are exempted from this process: 700 substances known as GRAS ("generally recognized as safe") because of extensive past use with no ill effects; and substances approved before 1958. However, many of these are being tested to be sure they really are safe for consumption.

    Apparently 98% by weight of all food additives used in the US are either baking soda, citric acid, corn syrup, musard, pepper, salt, sugar, and vegetable colouring. Other common additives are listed below.

    1. Nutrients are added to maintain or improve nutritional quality; they may enrich or replace vitamins and minerals that are lost in processing, or fortify to add nutrients that are lacking. Common nutrients added to foods are beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, niacinamide, and riboflavin.
    2. Preservatives are added to a food to prevent spoilage from bacteria, mold, fungus, or yeast; to extend a product's shelf life; and to "protect" colour and flavour. Common preservatives are benzoic acid, BHA or butylated hydroxyanisole, BHT or butylated hydroxytoluene, butylparaben, calcium propionate, EDTA or ethylene-diaminetetra-acetic acid, heptylparaben, lactic acid, methylparaben, potassium propionate, sodium benzoate, sodium nitrate, sodium propionate, TBHQ or tertiary butyl hydroquinone, vitamin C, and vitamin E. The ones with acronyms, like BHT, as well as the vitamins, act as antioxidants, a preservative function.
    3. A number of additives make food processing or preparation easier:
    4. Then there are the substances added for cosmetic or taste purposes, to make food more appealing to the consumer:

    My primary source for this node was my Food Lover's Companion, and the scariest thing about the list here, I think, is how many of these names I recognize. There is another, even longer list at the FDA website, http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/eafus.html, but even that one, it seems, doesn't list all the possible additives that are allowed by US law.

    Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.