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Anticaking agents keep powders such as tea, coffee, sugar, salt etc. flowing freely by preventing agglomeration and formation of lumps. For example, milk powder would turn into a solid chunk during damp weather without an anticaking agent.
Colouring agents simulate a colour that is perceived by the consumer as natural and also provide food products an appetizing appearance. Factors such as processing, storage and seasonal variation can result in unattractive or unfamiliar colour. For example, fruits are sometimes dyed to cover natural variations in colour.
Enzymes promote desirable chemical reactions in food. They can break down specific materials into simpler components or cause changes. For instance Carbohydrases break down complex sugars, like starch, into simpler sugars (glucose).
Firming agents prevent the softening of processed fruits, vegetables and fish, especially during the process of canning in which they receive a severe heat treatment. They are also used to give firmness to the curd of certain types of cheeses.
Glazing and polishing agents give a protective, coating or polishing surface to food products, particularly used on confectionery and on some vegetables and fruits. In some cases, they offer protection from spoiling. Glazing and polishing agents are mostly based on waxes.
Miscellaneous food additives include propellants, fillers, whipping agents, conditioning agents, anticoagulants, antifoaming agents, humectants, aerating agents, etc.
Sweeteners are substances used to sweeten foods other than conventional nutritive sweeteners such as sucrose or glucose. They often sweeten with a minimum contribution to a food's caloric value.
These agents maintain the acid-alkali balance (pH) of foods at a desired level, which can affect microbiological quality, cooking results, flavour and texture. Acids are also required to release carbon dioxide from leavening agents which make baked products light and fluffy.
Preservatives are used to prevent or delay undesirable spoilage in food, caused by microbial growth or enzymatic and chemical actions. For instance, antimicrobial agents prevent the growth of moulds, yeast, or bacteria in foods. Some preservatives, such as acetic acid and citric acid are permitted according to good manufacturing practice. Other preservatives, like sulfurous acid and sulfites can cause serious problems in some asthmatic individuals and regulations permit their use only in low levels. Nitrite and nitrate salts (used in meat curing) have been determined to be cancer-causing agents and only minimal levels are permitted.
Sequestering agents can combine with metallic elements (especially copper and iron) in food. They prevent metallic elements from taking part in reactions leading to colour or flavour deterioration. For example, the addition of a sequestrant to certain canned food prevents darkening of the product. Metallic elements in the canning water are bound by the additive and are unavailable for other reactions. Sequestering agents improve the quality, color, and stability of canned products.
Starch modifying agents alter starch to enable it to withstand heat processing and freezing. Starch can then maintain the appearance and consistency of foods such as mixes, sauces, and custards.
Yeast foods are agents that serve as nutrients for yeasts during fermentation. Yeast foods serve as a food for the yeast in the preparation of an inoculum. An inoculum is a highly concentrated suspension of yeast to be added to malt mashes for beer-making or to bread dough for leavening purposes.
Carrier or extraction solvents act as vehicles and diluents for food additives and flavours to facilitate their introduction to food or to enable the extraction of substances from food. For example, they are used to extract fats and oils from oil seeds (defatting) and to dissolve oil-soluble dyes and flavourings.
For more information, email the CVO/Food Safety Knowledge Centre or call 204-795-8414 in Winnipeg.