Making life taste better

Acidulants

Acidulants in food

Acidulants are an essential ingredient in sharp, zesty food products. These acids are what give fruit its characteristic tang, and most of those that are added to food products are common in nature. For example, citric acid occurs naturally in citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons, malic acid is found in apples, and tartaric acid in grapes.
They are important in products such as jams, where the acidity of the fruit determines how it will set. Acids also have preservative and antioxidant properties.

Common acids used in food products include:

Citric acid (E330) is by far the most widely used acid in food products. It was originally extracted from citrus fruits, but now most is made by the fermentation of molasses and other sugar sources. More than half of all citric acid in foods is used in beverages.

Lactic acid (E270) is produced in the body during metabolism and exercise. It is commonly found in sour milk products like yoghurt. It is used to regulate acidity in processed food products, and it also acts as an antioxidant and a preservative.

Malic acid (E296) is often found in unripe fruit. Common food uses include as a flavouring in sour confectionery.

Phosphoric acid (E338) is a chemical that is responsible for the tangy taste of cola drinks. Although it is a synthetic chemical, phosphoric acid derivatives are widely found in nature.

Tartaric acid (E334) occurs in fruits such as grapes and bananas. It is commonly used in sour-tasting sweets, and also as an antioxidant.

Use of food additives ‘safer and more transparent’ thanks to new legislation.

Safer and more transparent use.

The use of additives in food will soon become even safer and more transparent thanks to legislation adopted by the European Commission.

“This represents a landmark in our efforts to strengthen food safety in the EU,” says Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli (pictured). “The adoption of two regulations on additives will further empower citizens and industry alike as they will make it easier for everyone concerned to know exactly what additives are allowed in foodstuffs.”

The two regulations establish two new lists. The first concerns additives in food and will come into force in June 2013. This list will allow consumers to easily identify which additives are authorised in a particular foodstuff. The second list relates to additives in food ingredients, and will apply 20 days after its publication in the EU’s Official Journal.

Transparency is one major benefit of the new legislation as the new list makes it obvious that in some food categories the authorised additives are very limited or not allowed at all. This is the case, for instance, for unflavoured yogurt, butter, compote, pasta, simple bread, honey, water and fruit juice. In other categories, usually those concerning highly processed foodstuffs – such as confectionery, snacks, sauces and flavoured drinks – a large number of additives are authorised.

“Any initiative that helps educate and enlighten consumers is to be welcomed,” says an FAIA spokesman.

This legislation does just that, while helping to reinforce the message that authorised additives are not only safe but also play a key role in food safety.

Global additives market on the up

Global sales of food and drink additives reached £17.3 billion last year, according to a new report.

The best performing sectors include enzymes, acidulants and hydrocolloids, says Leatherhead Food Research’s report The Global Food Additives Market, with a growing demand for low fat, salt and sugar products – as well as functional health benefit products – driving demand for a host of additives including emulsifiers, hydrocolloids, sweeteners, vitamins and minerals, soya ingredients, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, prebiotics and plant stanol esters.

The report also says that while the global additives market has not been immune to the effects of the global economic downturn, a period of modest growth is forecast for the world food additives market over the next few years.

Some of the better performing sectors are likely to include natural flavours and colours, food hydrocolloids, enzymes and functional food ingredients.

Chemist in the kitchen

A page from our first website!

If you want to know more about how food additives tie in with the chemistry that goes on in the kitchen, a downloadable booklet entitled ‘In the mix’ is accessible from the home page, or from the image on this page.

Chemicals have always been welcome in the kitchen: sodium bicarbonate, pectin, yeast, acetic acid etc.

Every cook is a chemist. The first chemical laboratories, back in the Middle Ages, were glorified kitchens, and many chemical processes derive from techniques of cooking. The vital technique of distillation was perfected in the course of man’s search for intoxicating drinks. And far from being dehumanizing, such chemical processes have an ancient magic and glamour, as the great Italian writer Primo Levi pointed out (he was also a chemist):-

Distilling is beautiful.

‘First of all, because it is a slow, philosophic, and silent occupation, which keeps you busy but gives you time to think of other things, somewhat like riding a bike. Then because it involves a metamorphosis from liquid to invisible (vapour) invisible, and from this once again to liquid; but in this double journey, up and down, purity is obtained, an ambiguous and fascinating condition, which starts with chemistry and goes very far. And finally, when you set about distilling, you acquire the consciousness of repeating a ritual consecrated by centuries, almost a religious act, in which from imperfect material you obtain the essence, the usia, the spirit, and in the first place alcohol, which gladdens the spirit and warms the heart.’

Every kitchen contains a battery of chemical reagents, each with their specific chemical purpose; e.g. sodium bicarbonate, pectin, yeast, acetic acid, sodium chloride; and also substances, such as milk and eggs, that are not usually thought of as chemicals but which actually miracle reagents that chemists would still be incapable of creating if they didn’t already exist.

In many cases, ingredients that sound like chemicals are derived from natural products: lecithin from soya is similar to egg lecithin, acetic acid comes from vinegar, Vitamin C is the active ingredient of lemon juice, and so on. The principle of using additives is something that every cook, high or low, uses every time they prepare a meal. To understand the processes of making sauces, meringues, bread and cakes, of marinading, tenderising and caramelising is to become a food chemist, and it greatly enhances the pleasure of cooking to see it from a chemical point of view. Cooking is chemistry in action, with the added benefit that you can eat the results.