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Food additives and enhancers
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Food colour enhancers

Is it still reasonable to trust the colours, smells and tastes of the foods we eat? Here is an overview of some of the enhancing “tricks” used to make your mouth water and make processed food look more appealing than it normally would.

Colour enhancers
© Thinkstock

We consume increasingly large amounts of processed foods. Of course, the rather obscure mode of fabrication of food has given rise to many fantasies regarding the additives and processing meant to enhance the look, taste and odour of these foods.

While it’s important not to become totally paranoid, it’s always useful to know about the additives found in food. This particularly rings true in the globalized world. While a particular additive may be banned in the UK, it may not be so in China.  A good number of additives have been banned, and it must be said that some of them are dangerous, and can provoke allergies… so again, without getting totally paranoid, do keep an eye on the labels of your processed food.

Visual enhancers

In the modern world, everyone consumes food colouring at some stage. Without these colourings, your shop-bought watercress soup wouldn’t look so green and your soya sauce would be rather pale. But are there reasons for concern about such additives? Sometimes yes, but although they artificially make food look colourful, many colourings are often natural. Here are a few examples:


E Number



Used in…



Insects, egg yolks


Sausages, biscuits, lipstick, pills…



Leaves, plant stems


Soup, chewing gum, ice cream…



Fructose, sucrose, dextrose


Whiskey, soya sauce, pickles, sodas…

Packaging is also artificially visually enhanced… and most often, food manufacturers don’t wait until you’ve unpacked the product to make you want to eat it.

You’ll be pulled into buying with the product presented in an artistic and hopefully mouth-watering way, more fittingly referred to as artwork, with expertly chosen package colours (cardboard with brown tones for “wood fired pizza”, a yellow package for “fresh egg pasta”, etc.).

What you get when the box is opened can sometimes be a disappointment.

Natural food at all costs?

You may think that all of the above only applies to processed and manufactured foods and you have therefore set your sights solely on fresh organic products. Well, you should know that even the fruits and vegetables you buy are to a certain extent “artificial”.

While they may have been grown organically, they may well come from seed stock that has been developed and bred with a helping hand from man, to produce a fruit of uniform size, enhanced colour and to taste a particular way… all with the aim of meeting your expectations.

Though it’s true that organic and locally produced foods are an excellent alternative to artificial and standardised products, you’ll need to be ready to shell out a bit of extra money.

So you can strike a balance, going for “natural” products when your purse strings allow, but don’t shun all industrial foods. The majority of them are of good quality, even though they’re unlikely to be 100% natural – no matter how gorgeously natural the box makes the product look!

For more information on food additives and enhancers, visit:  Action on Additives

Posted 18.11.2010


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