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.
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.
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 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.
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.