We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What are Food Additives?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Food additives are products which are added to food to improve safety, performance, taste, texture, or appearance. Processed foods in the supermarket all contain food additives, and many people also use food additives at home when preparing food or processing food so that it can be safely stored. There are a number of different types, including both natural and artificial additives. As a general rule, the additives used must be listed on the label of a food product.

While many people think of food additives as artificial 20th century inventions, people have actually been using additives in food for thousands of years. Salt, for example, has been used historically as a preservative and flavor enhancer in many cultures, including Ancient China, Egypt, Rome, and Greece. People have also utilized acids for pickling, or herbs for preservation in processes such as smoking and drying.

Some food additives are designed to promote flavor. Flavor enhancers may be natural or artificial in nature, including things like salt, monosodium glutamate, and spices such as vanilla. Texture enhancers may be used to make foods feel softer, firmer, chewier, or crispier, among other things. Color additives may be used to make a food more visually pleasing, or to help a food retain natural color. Nitrates, for example, are used with meat to keep it looking pink and fresh.

One of the most critical groups of food additives are preservatives and stabilizers, which keep food safe to eat by helping it retain its integrity. Without the use of preservatives, many foods would rot, and they could also potentially harbor harmful bacteria and other organisms which could make people sick. Additives can also improve consistency and reliability, as for example in the case of additives included in flour so that it will behave dependably in baking, or anticaking agents added to baking powder to keep it from clumping together.

In the European Union, food additives are identified by E-numbers. In other regions of the world, additives may be listed by name or by numeric code. While companies must disclose which additives they use, they do not necessarily need to disclose concentrations or amounts, which is something important to keep in mind.

Some food additives have been linked with health concerns, and some people are very concerned about the use of artificial additives in their food. Governments are obliged to investigate safety concerns and to make recommendations such as removing an additive from the market or forcing companies to use less of an additive if the safety concerns are borne out. Individuals with certain medical conditions may find that otherwise safe additives are dangerous for them, making it important to talk about safe and dangerous foods with a medical professional when discussing management of a disease.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By famnfriends — On Mar 03, 2011

Our son, who has ADD, has been put on a diet called the Feingold diet by our pediatrician. This is a diet that recommends taking a lot of the additives out of what you eat. We are eating mostly organic and fresh, whole foods.

Apparently, he is allergic to a lot of the food coloring additives.

We have not only noticed a difference in his attention span and behavior, we have also noticed some positive changes in our health as well!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.