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food additives

food additives, substances added to foods by manufacturers to prevent spoilage or to enhance appearance, taste, texture, or nutritive value. By quantity, the most common food additives are flavorings, which include spices, vinegar, synthetic flavors, and, in the greatest abundance, sweeteners (e.g., sucrose, corn syrup, fructose, and dextrose). Colorings are another type of additive. Most colorings are synthetic dyes, but some (e.g., chlorophyll, beta carotene, and caramel) are naturally formed chemicals. Preservatives are divided into antioxidants, such as BHT, BHA, and ascorbic acid, which help prevent fats and oils from turning rancid or fruit from spoiling, and antimicrobial agents, which hinder the growth of mold and bacteria (see botulism). Additives that help produce a desired texture include emulsifiers, which keep substances such as mayonnaise from separating, and stabilizers, including gelatin, pectin, and carrageenan, which prevent the formation of ice crystals in ice cream. Other food additives include nutrients and leavenings, such as yeast and baking soda. Food additives comprise approximately 10% (about 150 lbs) of the food consumed by the average American adult. Many health experts and consumers have become more vocal in their criticism of the excessive and potentially dangerous use of food additives, particularly food colorings. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administrations is responsible for testing the safety of and regulating the use of food additives.

See K. T. Farrar, A Guide to Food Additives and Contaminants (1987); M. Huls, Food Additives and Their Impact on Health (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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