|| The information in the archive was published by MAFF, Department of Health and the
Scottish Executive before April 1st 2000 when the Food Standards
Agency was established.
No 4 - The main types of food additives
Listed below are the main types of additives used in food in the UK and examples of the typical functions they perform.
Colours and Flavours
These have a variety of uses, the main ones being:-
- to restore colour or flavour lost during processing or storage;
- to ensure uniformity from batch to batch;
- to reinforce colour or flavour introduced into foods by their ingredients but where the final food would appear paler or taste weaker than expected; and
- to give colour or flavour to foods which otherwise would be virtually colourless or lack a characteristic flavour, such as soft drinks.
There are two different types of sweeteners:-
Intense sweeteners - these have a sweetness many times that of sugar and are therefore used at very low levels. They are used in products such as diet foods, soft drinks and table top sweeteners;
Bulk sweeteners - these have a similar sweetness to sugar and are used at comparable levels. Unlike intense sweeteners they also provide bulk (although their main function is to provide sweetness). They are used in products such as sugar-free confectionery and foods for diabetics.
These include a number of different classes of additive:-
anti-caking agents, used to ensure free flow such as in dried milks and table salt;
antioxidants, which protect food against deterioration caused by oxidation, such as fat rancidity, flavour deterioration or colour changes;
emulsifiers, which aid in the formation and maintenance of the uniform dispersion of two or more substances which would not normally mix, such as oil and water in margarine;
flavour enhancers, used to enhance or bring out the flavour in foods without imparting a distinctive flavour of their own;
glazing agents, used to produce a protective coating or polish/sheen on the surface of a food such as confectionery or citrus fruit;
preservatives, which extend the shelf-life of products by preventing the growth of micro-organisms which could otherwise cause food decay and, in some cases, food poisoning;
stabilisers, used to maintain the physical state of a food and to stabilise, retain or intensify the existing colour of a food;
- Other Miscellaneous Additives classes are acids, acidity regulators, anti-foaming agents, bulking agents, carriers and carrier solvents, emulsifying salts, firming agents, foaming agents, gelling agents, humectants, some modified starches, packaging gases, propellants, raising agents, sequestrant agents and thickeners.
Food Sense Booklet
Further information on all these additives is contained in the Ministry's free booklet "About Food Additives" (Ref. PB0552) published in the Food Sense series. It is available from:
LONDON SE99 7TT
Telephone: 0645 556000
Back to Food additives and labelling page
This page was last updated 21 April 1999