Ingredients Lists: Chemical Names, E-numbers and Additives
- highlighted on the label in any way, through pictures, graphics, or words (for example, ‘extra cheese’)
- mentioned in the name of the food product (for example, ‘cheese and onion pasty’)
- normally associated with the name by consumers (for example, the meat in a ‘shepherds pie’ or the fruit in a summer pudding).
Chemical namesEverything around us is made of chemicals. Nutrients, such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fibre, vitamins and minerals are all made of chemicals that occur naturally. The food industry makes use of naturally occurring chemicals to enhance various properties of the products we buy.
- Food flavourings may be added to improve taste and aroma.
- Food enzymes are natural proteins used in some manufacturing processes to improve baking quality, dough, yields and fermentation .
- Food supplements are vitamins and minerals added to foods specifically to correct nutritional deficiencies) .
- tests have shown no harmful or detrimental effects in humans
- their use is justified
- information to consumers is not distorted [5, 10].
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- Colours are used for boosting or re-establishing colour in foods .
- Preservatives are used to guarantee quality and extend shelf-life. They control contamination and prevent decomposition caused by bacteria, fungi, mould, and yeast .
- Antioxidants are used to prevent naturally occurring oxidation reactions such as those that cause food to rot or fade in colour. They therefore help to extend shelf-life and quality [5, 10].
- Sweeteners are used as an alternative to sugar for reducing the calories in certain foods . Overconsumption of sugar has been linked with obesity and dental cavities, so it’s best to enjoy sugar in moderation, however sugar can come under lots of different names on an ingredients list (take a look at ‘How to spot sugar on an ingredient list’ in the ‘See Also’ section).
- Emulsifiers, stabilisers, gelling agents and thickeners are used to help mix ingredients or thicken products . For example, emulsifiers help oil and water to mix, thickeners such as starch or gum based give sauces and soups the desired consistency. Guar gum is added to various dairy products such as low-fat yoghurt as a fat replacer..
A note on palm oilThe use of palm oil in food has been criticised because vast plantations have led to deforestation, land grabs and environmental degradation . The oil is used in more than 50% of all food products and is found in many of the items we consume and use daily, such as biscuits and breakfast cereals as well as cleaning products and body lotions . The problems associated with palm oil are not easily resolved (you can find out more in the EIT Food course ‘Engaging with controversies in the food system: What is palm oil and why is it so useful?’) but the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 to promote the production and use of sustainable palm oil. As from the start of 2019, 19% of palm oil globally is certified by the RSPO . Since 2011 it’s been mandatory in the EU to include palm oil on ingredients lists but it’s not always easily identified because it has various alternative names. The main four groups of names it might appear as are ‘Palm _ ‘, ‘Stear_’, ‘Laur_’ and ‘Glyc_’  . There’s a complete list of names at the orangutan alliance website.
Understanding Food Labels
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