From this ultimate guide get to know what is food additive, its classification, and uses of food additives. Just like irradiation of food, additives also plays an important role in enhancing food quality. However people often confuse additives with adulteration.

That’s why I am publishing this article to clear all your doubts and queries related to food additives.

What Is Food Additive?

FAO & WHO defined food additives as non-nutritive substance that people add intentionally to food, generally in small quantities, to improve its appearance, flavour, texture and storage properties.

The Food and Drug Administration of United States in collaboration with the Food Protection Committee has defined food additive as a substances or their mixture that are other than basic foodstuffs and are present in food as a result of any aspect of production, processing, storage or packaging.

The term food additives does not include chance contaminants. Intentional substances are added to perform specific functions. Unintentional additives are little different, they have no intended function in finished food but they become a part of food during some phase of production.


Functions include: Drying, Emulsifying, Enhancing flavour , Enriching taste, Firming, Foam producing, Glazing, Leavening, Lining food containers, Anti-caking, Anti drying, Anti-foaming, Anti-hardening, Anti-spattering, Anti-sticking, Bleaching, Buffering, Chill-proofing, Colour retaining, Creaming, Curing, Sweetening, Dissolving, Dispersing, Acidifying, Alkaline, Neutralizing, Texturizing, Thickening, Peeling, Preserving, refining etc.

Uses Of Food Additives

what is food additive, food additive types, food additive classification, food additive definition,

1) Helps in enhancing attractiveness of foods by means of colouring and flavouring agents, emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners, clarifiers and bleaching agents.

2) Maintenance of nutritional quality by the use of anti- oxidants.

3)To facilitate food processing/ preparation of food by means of acids, alkalis, buffers, sequestrants (binding agents) etc.

4)Enhancement of keeping quality (shelf life) or stability by the use of anti-oxidants, anti- microbial agents, merits gases etc.

5) Reduces the wastage and improves yield of the product.

Types Of Additives

Additives are of two types: natural and artificial. Additives that are “derived from natural sources” are Natural additives while those that are derived from artificial sources or are “prepared synthetically” are Artificial additives.


We can classify food additives as following:


An anti-oxidant is a substance which when added to fats and fats containing foods, prevent their oxidation and thus prolong their shelf-life, wholesomeness and palatability.

Without the addition of anti-oxidants, fatty foods such as potato chips, salted nuts, fat containing dehydrated food cannot be stored for any length of time without becoming rancid.

Some anti-oxidants used in foods are- Butylated hydroxy anisole (BHA) , Thio-di-propionic acid , Ascorbic acid , Butylated hydroxy toluene (BHT), Stannous chloride , Propyl gellate (PG) , Tertiary Butyl hydroQuinone (TBHQ) , Tocopherols , Sulphur di-oxide.

Anti-oxidants function by interrupting the free radical chain reaction involved in lipid oxidation. An anti-oxidant should not have any harmful physiological effect and should not impart objectionable flavour, odour of food. It should be effective in low concentration (0.01-0.62%).

Ascorbic acid prevents browning which is caused by the enzymatic oxidation of phenolic compounds. Acids such as citric and phosphoric increase the quality of Ascorbic acid.


These are also called as chelating agents or metal scavengers since they combine with metals such as iron and copper and remove them from the solution. Sequestrants are used to suppress the action of some objectionable but practically unavoidable ingredients.

Example: In manufacture of soft drinks iron in water reacts with some flavouring substance.

Some of the common example are calcium chloride, calcium phosphate, calcium and sodium salts of organic acids, tartaric acid and citric acid.

Colouring Agents

They are added to a large number of food items to make them attractive and appetizing. They may be of natural origin for example- Caramel, carotene, annatto, turmeric, curcumin and saffron. Synthetic colours are widely used in different foods and are of great importance.

They are further classified as Acidic and Basic dyes. According to the provisions of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act only 8 coal tar food colours are permitted for use in food products.

They include 3 Red Shades: Carmoisine, ponceau 4R, erythrosine; 2 Yellow Shades: Sunset yellow FCF and Tartazine; 2 Blue Shades: Brilliant blue FCF, and Indigo Carmine, 1 Green Shade: Fast green FCF.

There are certain unpermitted colours such as metanil yellow, Rhodamne B, Orange G, Blue VRS, Auramine that are considered as adulterants in food.

Flavouring Agents

Spices, herbs, plant extracts (root, leaves, stem and essential oils) are extensively used as flavouring agents of natural origin. Esters, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols and ethers have characteristic fruity odour and can be easily synthesized and it can also replace natural aromatic substances.

Example: Amyl acetate (banana flavour), Methyl anthranilate (grapes) and Ethyl butyrate (pineapple). Flavour enhancer do not have any flavour but intensify the flavour of other substances.


Various sweetening agents are used as substitute for cane sugar (sucrose) which are 10 to 3000 times as sweet as sucrose. Non- nutritive sweeteners are used in manufacturing of low calorie soft drinks. Also added to low calorie liquid food, canned fruits, frozen desert, salad dressing, gelatin dessert and some baked products.

Non- sugar sweeteners, besides helping to control weight, is also helpful for diabetics to enjoy sweet food. But use of them is restricted or banned as these affect health. However natural sweeteners are good and they are honey, cane syrup, lactose, etc.

Synthetic sweetening agent is Saacharin which is 300 times sweeter than sucrose and detectable in 10 ppm of water. Recently its consumption is prohibited by the government. Cyclamate, aspartame, Glycyrrhizic acid, dulcin, nectarines, sucralose, aspartame are other sweetener.

Clarifying Agents

These are used to remove the haziness or sediments from fruit juices etc. Example: Edible Gelatin, Resin, Bentonite.

Surface Active Agents

These are also called as emulsifiers that are used to stabilize oil in water, water in oil, gas in liquid and gas in solid emulsions. Besides emulsifiers of natural origin like lecithin and synthetic ones mono and di- glycerides and their derivatives, certain fatty acids etc can be used as emulsifying agents.

Synthetic one include de-foaming compounds and detergents i.e. propylene glycol monostearate and mono sodium phosphate.


Any substance which is capable of inhibiting, retarding or arresting the growth of micro organisms is known as a preservative. It may be a chemical or natural substance. (Example: sugar, salt, acid).

Sulphur dioxide and sodium benzoate, sodium and calcium propionate and sorbic acid (Mould and Yeast inhibitor in cheese and baked products) and chlorine compounds ( used as a germicidal wash for food and vegetables) are used as food preservatives.

Nitrates and nitrites are used to preserve meat and meat products. It also includes fumigants like ethylene oxide and ethyl formate used to control micro-organisms on spices, nuts and dried foods.

Anti-Caking and Humectants

Anti-caking function by absorbing excess moisture or by coating particles to make them more water repellent, which helps inhibit clumping. Added in very small amounts, these compounds prevent dry foods from sticking together, ensuring a product remains dry and free flowing.

Example: Natural anti- caking agents like magnesium silicate and corn starch, synthetic agents include- silicon dioxide and iron ammonium citrate.

Humectants enhance the stability and viscosity , maintain texture and reducing microbial activity. Sugar and salt , glycerine syrup, honey, egg yolk, egg white, molasses, lactic acid etc are used as humectants.

Stabilizers and Thickeners

These substances help to the texture of foods, inhibit crystallization of sugar and formation of ice, stabilize emulsions and foams and reduce stickiness on baked products. They combine with water to form gels and make the food viscous.

Example: Gum Arabic, Agar- agar, Alginic acid, starch and its derivatives, gelatin, pectin, amylose, carboxy methyl cellulose (CMC), carrageenan, hydrolysed vegetable proteins are the examples of such food additives.

Cake toppings and chocolate milk drinks, jellies, puddings and salads dressings are some foods that contain stabilizers and thickeners.

Buffer, Acids, and Alkali

These food additives are used to control or adjust the PH of foods and can alter flavour, texture, and food quality. Certain chemicals are also added to adjust the pH, for example: acetic acid, ammonium carbonate, ammonium hydroxide, calcium carbonate, calcium chloride, calcium citrate, citric acid, lactic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, sulphuric acid and sodium hydroxide.


The function of leavening agents is to aerate the dough or batter to make it light and porous. We can do leavening biologically by using yeast, or mechanically by whipping, mixing, or beating. You can also use baking powder powder or soda to practice leavening by chemicals.

Firming Agents

Fruits like tomatoes, berries, apple slices and mangoes, and vegetables like cauliflower, nod potato soften on canning or freezing. By sing pectin substances we can impart a stable texture to these products. You can use calcium, magnesium, and aluminium as firming agents.

Example of Firming Agents: Calcium chloride, calcium citrate, calcium carbonate, calcium iodate, calcium gluconate, and mono calcium phosphate.

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