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What is an additive?

Although associated with modernity, food additives have been used for centuries, since humans first learned to preserve meat, fish, and other harvested food with salting and smoking techniques.

With the development of science and technology, new food additives have been discovered that can perform beneficial functions in food.

Additives are substances that are not regularly consumed and whose addition to food products has a technological purpose — such as supporting vital processes including food preparation, treatment, packaging, transport, or storage.

Additives perform various functions in food, as they are subject to many environmental factors that can modify their original composition, such as temperature changes, oxidation, and exposure to microorganisms. The fundamental role of food additives is to maintain the qualities and characteristics of foods that consumers demand, allowing products to remain safe, nutritious, and flavorful during the transition from "field to fork."

The following are specific reasons why food additives are used:

  1. To maintain or improve safety and freshness.Food additives known as preservatives reduce product deterioration caused by mold, air, bacteria, fungi, or yeast. In addition to maintaining food quality, they help prevent food contamination and consumer illnesses such as potentially fatal botulism. One type of preservative (antioxidants) prevents fats, oils, and foods that contain them from becoming stale or developing an unpleasant taste. Preservatives also prevent fresh fruits, such as apple slices, from turning dark when they come into contact with air.
  2. To improve or maintain nutritional value.Vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber are added to many foods to improve the nutritional quality of food or to compensate for cases where these nutrients are lost in food processing or are simply lacking in a person's diet. This fortification and enrichment have helped prevent and reduce malnutrition in many countries worldwide. All products containing added nutrients must be properly labeled.
  3. To improve taste, texture, and appearance.Spices, natural and artificial flavors, low-calorie sweeteners, salt, and pepper are often added to improve a food’s taste. Food dyes maintain or improve appearance. Emulsifiers, stabilizers, and thickeners give texture and consistency to food. Leavening agents allow baked goods to rise during cooking. Some additives help control the pH balance of food, while other added ingredients help maintain the taste and appeal of food.

The use of additives is strictly regulated. To be used, additives must meet a range of criteria measuring their proven usefulness and safety — and their addition must be clearly conveyed on food packaging to avoid consumer confusion. 


Ref. Aditivos alimentarios. (n.d.). Eufic.