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Common Food Additives: Colorants, Flavor Enhancers, and Sweeteners

New Contributor III
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Food additives refer to natural or chemically synthesized substances added to food during the production, processing, and storage of food to improve food quality and its color, aroma, and taste, change the structure of food, prevent food from oxidation, spoilage and deterioration, and meet the needs of processing technology.

According to their source, production method, action and function, and safety evaluation, food additives can be classified in many ways. Below are the most commonly seen food additives.


Also known as pigment, the colorant is a kind of substance that improves the sensory properties of food after coloring. According to its nature and source, food coloring can be divided into two categories: natural coloring and synthetic coloring.

Synthetic food coloring

Edible synthetic pigments have such characteristics: bright colors, stable properties, strong tinting power, high firmness, low cost, and ease to use. But most of the synthetic pigments are harmful to the human body.

Edible natural pigments

Edible natural pigments are mainly pigments extracted from animal and plant tissues. However, the components of natural pigments are relatively complex, and the purified natural pigments may have different effects from the original ones.

Just like other food additives, synthetic food coloring requires strict toxicological evaluation to achieve the purpose of safe use. Factors that need to be considered include a. chemical structure, physical and chemical properties, purity, form of existence in food, and degradation process; b. retention distribution, metabolic transformation, and excretion status in tissues and organs after being absorbed by the body along with food; c. The biological changes caused by itself and its metabolites in the body, as well as the possible toxicity to the body.

Flavor Enhancer

Flavor enhancer, also called flavoring agents or flavoring agents, refers to substances that supplement, enhance, and improve the original taste or flavor of food. The flavor enhancers allowed include L-alanine, disodium guanylate, disodium 5'-inosinate, disodium 5'-flavored nucleotides, disodium succinate, and sodium glutamate.

Sodium glutamate is monosodium L-glutamate containing one molecule of crystal water. It is easily soluble in water, loses crystal water at 150°C, pyrrolidonized at 210°C to generate pyroglutamic acid, and decomposes at about 270°C. Stable to light, racemization occurs when heated under alkaline conditions, and the taste power decreases. When heated under acidic conditions with a pH below 5, it is easy to undergo pyrrolidonization and become pyroglutamic acid, which reduces the taste. Little change occurs when heated under neutral conditions.

Glutamic acid is a low-toxic substance. There is no toxicity problem under the general dosage conditions, and the flavor enhancers of the nucleotide series are widely present in various foods.

Over the years, many new flavor enhancers have been developed, including meat extracts, yeast extracts, hydrolyzed animal proteins, and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins.


Sweeteners refer to food additives that impart sweetness to foods. According to the source, sweeteners can be divided into:

Natural sweeteners can be further divided into sugar alcohols and non-sugars. Among them, sugar alcohols include xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, lactitol, maltitol, isomalt, and erythritol, while non-sugars include stevioside, licorice, kiwifruit, Mangosteen, Soma sweet.

Synthetic sweeteners include saccharin, sodium cyclamate, and acesulfame potassium. Among them, dipeptides include methyl aspartame, 1-a-aspartyl-N-(2,2,4,4-tetramethyl-3-trimethylene sulfide base)-D-alaninamide (also known as alitame). Derivatives of sucrose include sucralose, isomalt (also known as palatinose), and new sugar (fructooligosaccharide).