What Are the Different Uses of Food Additives?

Angela Farrer

The different uses of food additives include preserving freshness, intensifying flavors, altering certain food textures, binding ingredients together, and brightening food colors. Food additives are most common in processed foods that can be stored in freezers or pantries for long time periods. Some other kinds of natural additives are also sometimes applied to fruit, meat, and dairy products to prevent oxidation or early spoilage. Artificial additives can help increase the nutritional value of certain foods that would normally have smaller amounts of vitamins or minerals.

Many potato chips contain food additives.
Many potato chips contain food additives.

Food distributors face frequent challenges in keeping their products as fresh as possible during the shipping process. Many types of food are transported over long distances to grocery stores, and a spoiled shipment results in lost money for both the distributor and the retailer. Preservatives, such as sorbic acid, are usually added to dairy products, baked sweets, and pickled vegetables to prevent harmful bacteria from thriving in these foods. These types of chemical compounds also stop the growth of mold or fungus in products like bread and cheese.

Food coloring is often added to packaged foods.
Food coloring is often added to packaged foods.

Some foods are rich sources of nutrition, but they are not normally known for having rich or interesting flavors. Specific uses of food additives can improve the taste of these foods and increase the likelihood of people buying them. Popular flavor-enhancing additives include sugar, vanilla extract, and citric acid to make foods like ice cream and yogurt taste sweeter and richer. Salt-derived chemical additives, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), are frequently added to snack foods like potato chips to intensify their taste.

Bakers often add preservatives to keep bread from getting moldy.
Bakers often add preservatives to keep bread from getting moldy.

The natural textures of certain foods are somewhat unappetizing to many people, and this problem can be solved with uses of food additives to smooth out or otherwise change these textures. Compounds such as xanthan gum are mixed with puddings and pastry fillings during the production process to give them an even texture without ingredient lumps. Other artificial additives are designed to keep products like salt and grated cheese from clumping together.

Additional uses of food additives can keep blended ingredients from separating when some foods are packaged after the mixing process. Some of these additives, including lecithin, act as emulsifiers in foods, such as sauces and salad dressings. Other synthetic ingredients, such as carrageen, are thickening agents in some fruit jams or preserves. Food coloring additives can be found in products like yellow butter to make them look more visually pleasing.

Titanium dioxide is used in some dairy products, including milk, in order to enhance the white color.
Titanium dioxide is used in some dairy products, including milk, in order to enhance the white color.

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