It may seem odd that so many E numbers are added to foods and drinks these days, but they are there for a reason. Each additive included in products plays a specific role and, without them, many of the products would be vastly different to how we know them.
Here’s a rundown of many of the different types of E numbers used in products today and the specific role they play.
E Numbers and Their Roles
There are various different types of E numbers, each of which plays their own role in food, although some of the roles invariably over lap with other similar E numbers. Understanding what their role is can help provide enlightenment as to exactly why they’re added to food.
Acidity Regulators These E numbers work as acidity regulators are used to alter and control the acid and alkaline levels in foods.
Anti-Caking Agents These E numbers play the role of helping ingredients from sticking together or caking.
Antioxidants Antioxidants play a preserving role. They help inhibit the effects that oxygen naturally had on food, slowing down the decay of products. One example of a natural antioxidant is vitamin C.
Anti-foaming Agents These strange sounding additives help to prevent or reduce foaming occurring in foods.
Bulking Agents As the name suggests, these E numbers are added to foods to bulk them up and make them seem more filling. One example of a bulking agent is starch.
Colours Colours are added to foods and drinks to help make them look more appealing and attractive, or replace natural colours that are lost from the ingredients during the processing stage.
Colour Retention Agents These additives are used to help preserve the natural colour of a food, without the need to add other artificial colourings.
Emulsifiers These additives are included in the manufacture of foods to ensure that when oil and water are mixed together they stay together and don’t separate. They’re used in products such as mayonnaise and ice cream.
Flavourings As the name suggests, flavourings are used to spice up, sweeten up and enhance the flavour of foods. They can be from natural sources or artificial and play a key role in making products palatable, tasty and pleasant for consumers.
Flavour Enhancers These work in a similar way to flavours, but are added to enhance the existing taste and flavour of food. They can come from either artificial or natural sources.
Humectants These additives are included in foods to help them from drying out.
Flour Treatment Agents This is used when flour is included as an ingredient. It helps to improve the colour or look of flour when it’s baked.
Preservatives Preservatives are included to help preserve the life of products. For example, they help prevent food from decaying, growing mould or fungi, or from being affected by other bacteria.
Stabilisers Stabilisers are added to some products to prevent them from separating out. They can also be used in other foods as a form of gelling agent or thickener, helping products gel together better.
Sweeteners It’s not hard to guess that sweeteners are included to sweeten products up. They help improve the taste and flavour of foods and drinks. Sweeteners can be sugar-based, but low-calorie sweeteners are used too and have the benefit of keeping the calorie level of products lower than it would be with sugar.
Thickeners Thickeners are included in the ingredients of some items to help improve the thickness and look of products