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Examples of Food Additives

author image Vita Ruvolo-Wilkes
Vita Ruvolo-Wilkes was first published in 1977. She worked as a certified aerobics and exercise instructor. Upon graduating from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, she worked for the VA Medical Center. As a physician assistant, Ruvolo-Wilkes designed specialized diets for her patients' conditions and has written a monthly health column in the "Montford Newsletter."
Examples of Food Additives
Salt free products often contain additives. Photo Credit olgakr/iStock/Getty Images


Chemicals are generally added to foods to enhance them, but sometimes the changes compromise human health. Their safety remains controversial. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration monitors and regulates the chemicals added to foods. It also introduces new ones and bans those with questionable safety. The “generally recognized as safe list,” GRAS, contains approximately 700 currently approved additives.

Flavor Enhancers

Examples of Food Additives
Flavor enhancers and artificial sweeteners double as preservatives. Photo Credit MamaMiaPL/iStock/Getty Images

One of the most widely used flavor additive, artificial sweeteners come in the form of aspartame, sucralose and saccharin. The names of most sweeteners end in "–ose," such as sucrose, lactose and maltose. Sugar alcohols add some sweetness to foods with fewer added calories than sugar. They end in "–ol," as in mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol. To enhance a salty taste, the food industry uses chemicals such as sodium citrate, trisodium citrate and monosodium glutamate. Many flavor enhancers also double as preservatives or life-extenders.


Examples of Food Additives
Preservatives extend the shelf life of many foods. Photo Credit Minerva Studio/iStock/Getty Images

Besides sugar and salt chemicals, a number of additives extend the shelf life of many foods. Referred to as preservatives, they ward off the microorganisms that cause food spoilage. Often mold spores appear on bread or pantry moths attack other dried goods. Commonly used preservatives include calcium propionate, sodium nitrate, sulfites, nitrites and nitrates. Butylated hydroxyanisole, BHA, and a related compound, butylated hydroxytoluene, BHT, often get added to foods to preserve fats.

Stabilizers and Emulsifiers

Examples of Food Additives
Chemicals often get added to foods where ingredients don't mix naturally. Photo Credit Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images

Examples in this category include tricalcium phosphate, an anticaking agent, lecithin, an emulsifier, alginic acid and xantham gum, bulking and thickening agents and stearic acid, a glaze enhancer. Other additives include those for improving whipping, leavening and color permanence. Whenever two or more ingredients mix together, stabilization becomes an issue. For instance, water and oil do not mix naturally, so when a processed food includes ingredients with these properties, a chemical gets added to encourage cohesive mixing.

Coloring Agents

Examples of Food Additives
Coloring agents are added to both foods, drinks and teas. Photo Credit Soul/Photodisc/Getty Images

Used to preserve color as well as supply color to foods and drinks, coloring dyes exist in both natural and synthetic forms. Food color plays a role in making food more palatable because color stimulates the eyes and enhances perception of flavor. FDC Blue Lake No.2, Violet BNP, Brown FK, Kokum Red, Caramel and Green S are a few of the dyes currently in use. These water-soluble dyes make them a good choice in sodas, teas and noncarbonated drinks.

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