With the term “food additive” is indicated a substance generally not consumed as a food but used during the production, packaging, storage and transport of a food.
For full definition, please consult European 89/107 / CE. The main ones are: coloring, preservatives, acidity and sapidity regulators, waxes and gases for packaging, thickeners, stabilizers and emulsifiers.
These substances are classified by an acronym composed of the letter E followed by three or four numbers. The first number indicates the family: E1XX are food coloring, E2XX preservatives, E3XX antioxidants, E4XX thickeners, stabilizers and emulsifiers, E5XX acidity regulators, E6XX flavor enhancers, E9XX waxes, foam and gas for the packaging.
Food additives can be of natural origin or artificial origin. This is not important from the point of view of food safety. Quoting the chemist Dario Bressanini “It’s NOT from the origin of a substance that can be deduced if it’s toxic or not.”
Now let’s see what are the most used in mixology.
Certainly among the most commonly used food additives there are thickeners, emulsifiers, foaming agents and acids (which fall into several categories).
The thickeners increase the viscosity of a liquid, hence its texture, but does not significantly alter its aroma. They can be polysaccharides such as corn starch, tapioca, agar-agar, potato starch or protein such as gelatin.
Starches are widely used to increase the density of hot chocolate: a spoon does not alter the flavor and should already be sufficient to make our preparation creamy. Gelatin or agar are used for jelly drinks, however these two ingredients are much more interesting if used as foaming agents.
Emulsifiers are additives which allow two or more non-miscible liquids to be bonded. Two non-miscible liquids are for example water and oil or vinegar and oil (vinaigrette). Very famous emulsifiers (but not the only ones!) are arabic gum, soy lecithin or sucrose ester (E473). For example, with an emulsifier you can make an oil or butter syrup.
Foaming agents are instead additives that allow to disperse air within a liquid. This is because foaming agents have the ability to reduce surface tension. A liquid in which a gas is dispersed is named foam. At the bar, the most famous foaming agents are soy lecithin, sucrose ester, gelatin, egg white and aquafaba.
Acids are very fashionable in recent years. With malic acid, tartaric acid, ascorbic acid, citric acid, lactic acid (and others) there are no particular risks. You can use a solution of water and acids to recreate the acidity of a citrus fruit or to enhance the acidity of other fruits.
In the kitchen and molecular mixing, other types of additives are also used. I am not a molecular mixology lover so I decided not to talk about the additives used for example for spherification.
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