For centuries, food manufacturers have included organic or chemical compounds known as additives to their products. There are several benefits of food additives, including extended shelf life and improved taste, appearance and texture. Foods also can be fortified or enriched with certain substances to help consumers achieve better nutrition. While these additives generally enhance the final product, some of the compounds have been found to be harmful to humans, and many governments now regulate the amount and types of substances that are added to processed foods. In response to these concerns, many food manufacturers now offer brands with fewer preservatives and other additives for consumers who are concerned about long-term health risks.
One of the major benefits of food additives is longer shelf life. For centuries, humans have used salt and other naturally occurring substances to help preserve meat and other foods. Newer, chemically derived preservatives can keep food fresh and ready to eat for extra months or years. This longer shelf life helps stores by allowing them to keep stock on the shelf longer and limiting the amount of waste from spoiled, unsold food. Preservatives also help the consumer by keeping food costs lower and slowing the growth of harmful bacteria.
In addition to keeping consumers safer from food-borne illnesses, food additives also can improve the flavor of the product. Manufacturers may add acids, flavor enhancers and sweeteners to their foods to make the taste more appealing to the consumer. Many processes that extend shelf life, such as canning, dehydrating or freezing, also can rob food of its natural flavor. Without these enhancements, many processed foods would be bland and unappetizing.
As with flavor, texture and appearance also can be affected by the manufacturing processes. Another of the benefits of food additives is improved look and feel of the final product. Stabilizers and thickeners are substances added to processed foods to help them retain their proper consistency. Coloring, glazing agents and color retention agents assist manufacturers in delivering products that appear appetizing and nutritious to the consumer. With these additives, heavily processed foods can end up looking and feeling like the fresh version of the product.
In addition to substances that preserve and enhance a food product, there are some compounds that are added to food for health reasons. Fortified and enriched foods may have added fiber, vitamins or minerals to help consumers maintain a healthy diet. This is one of the most important benefits of food additives for populations that may have deficiencies in their diet. Fortified foods also can help picky eaters, such as children, get more nutrition.