Being familiar with the vocabulary of food additives can help you navigate the grocery store shelves more easily. Here are some categories of food additives to look for.
Acid: Fulfills a multitude of functions—intensifies flavor, provides sour taste, controls microorganism growth, coagulates proteins (needed for cheese formation), reduces rancidity or breakdown of the product due to oxygen exposure. Examples: citric acid, lactic acid.
Alkali: Reduces acidity of a food to enhance flavor, change functional properties, and prevent microorganism growth. Examples: ammonium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate.
Anti-caking agent: Prevents particles, powders, or granular ingredients from clumping and sticking together. Example: aluminum sodium salt.
Anti-foaming agent: Prevents unwanted foaming in foods during processing. Example: polydimethylsiloxane.
Antimicrobial: Prevents the growth of harmful microorganisms. Example: potassium metabisulfite.
Antioxidant: Increases shelf life of foods by protecting them from degradation through exposure to oxygen; may be natural or artificial in origin; may have health benefits. Examples: Vitamin E (tocopherols), BHT.
Artificial sweetener: Often referred to as “synthetic” or “non-nutritive” sweeteners. Sweetens foods intensely (sometimes hundreds or thousands times as sweet as white sugar); often used for diabetic food products because it does not impact blood sugar levels. Many do not contain calories. Side effects related to ingestion include headaches, mood swings, blurred vision, weight gain, skin rashes, and behavioral changes. Examples: sucralose (Splenda®), aspartame (NutraSweet®).
Buffer: Controls pH (acidity or alkalinity) within a product. Example: potassium citrate.
Bulking agent: Adds mass to a food without significantly