Types of Food Ingredients

Taste, texture, freshness and appearance are a few of the major contributions food ingredients and food additives make toward the enjoyment of food. By aiding in the processing and preparation of foods, ingredients also help to maintain certain desirable qualities that are associated with various foods.

For example, salad dressings are expected to stay mixed once they have been shaken. Emulsifiers such as lecithin from soybeans help dressings stay mixed and improve texture in many other foods. Emulsifiers are also used to provide smoothness in ice cream, increase volume and impart fine grain quality in breads, and achieve better consistency in cake mixes.

Food additives are classified by the functions they serve in food processing. Below is a list of food ingredient classifications and their uses.

  1. Acid Regulator
    Purpose

    Acidity regulators, such as phosphates, help control the pH levels of foods. Phosphates are useful derivatives of the element phosphorus. It is an essential mineral and the second most abundant nutrient in the human body. In the human body, phosphorus is required for growth, maintenance, and repair of all tissues, and is necessary for the proper formation and growth of bones.

    Source

    Phosphate rock is mined to obtain phosphorus. Natural phosphate rocks include clay and other minerals, and must be purified to isolate phosphorus in the form of phosphoric acid. The acid is reacted with alkaline salts to produce purified phosphates.

    Use

    Meats, tomato ketchup, some dairy products and soft drinks are common sources of phosphates.

  2. Anti-Caking Agents
    Purpose

    Anti-caking agents keep solid food free-flowing. Powdered foods often clump together and change textures when they absorb water, but anti-caking agents help to prevent this from taking place.

    Source

    Many anti-caking agents are derived from natural sources, such as silicates — minerals that are among the most common on earth.

    Calcium silicate is a common anti-caking agent found in table salt. It helps to absorb both oil and water to reduce salt particles from clumping together.

    Use

    Table salt, flours, sugar products, powdered milks, grated cheese, cake mixes and egg mixes

  3. Colors
    Purpose

    Colors are used to balance and enhance colors that occur naturally in foods. They are also often used to give colorless food life making them more enjoyable and fun.

    Source

    There are two types of food colors approved by the FDA—certified colors and exempt from certification. Colors exempt from certification are derived from natural materials like vegetables and minerals, while certified colors are synthetically produced.

    Use

    Candy, margarine, beverages, cheese, jellies, yogurt and baked goods

  4. Food Cultures
    Purpose

    Microbial food cultures exist in foods naturally or are added to provide acidification, texture, and flavor. They also provide nutritional benefits to the consumers, while helping to extend the shelf life of foods.

    Source

    Microbial food cultures include bacterial food cultures, fungi and yeast, and can be divided into “probiotics” and “starter cultures

    Use

    Dairy, meats, fish, breads, juices and fermented foods

  5. Emulsifiers/Stabilizers/Thickeners
    Purpose

    Emulsifiers help to prevent oil and water mixtures from separating.  Stabilizers help ingredients stay dispersed and suspended in the solution.  Thickeners enhance the texture of foods and can give low fat or reduced calorie foods the texture of full fat/calorie options. All are helpful in maintaining the appearance of foods and preserving freshness and quality.

    Source

    Mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids are a common example of an emulsifier as they disperse fat in foods to allow it to become more water-soluble. Emulsifiers can be used to reduce calories  and/or to replace fat.  They can also help reduce food waste by keeping foods mixed.

    Use

    Emulsifiers are found in a variety of foods, including margarine, ice cream, bread, chocolate, and some processed meats

  6. Firming Agents
    Purpose

    Firming agents are used to help foods maintain their crisp quality and strength. They are also commonly used to help ensure the shelf-life of foods.

    Source

    Sodium Citrate, also known as citric acid, is a common firming agent derived from citrus.

    Use

    Fruits, vegetables, canned meats and fish, pickles and relishes

  7. Flavors/Flavor Enhancers
    Purpose

    Flavors are added to foods to enhance taste and flavor. Sometimes they enhance a flavor already present in a food.  Other times, they impart flavor to foods that would otherwise be bland and tasteless.

    Source

    There are two types of flavors: natural and artificial.

    Natural flavors are derived from plants and herbs or the raw material of animals. Artificial flavors are developed from synthetic sources to mimic common flavors.

    Flavors are made from a wide variety of sources, but typically are isolated from certain flavorful foods.

    Use

    Candies, soft drinks, sauces, salad dressings, desserts, ice cream, nutritional and dietary foods, and cereals.

  8. Foaming/Anti-foaming Agent
    Purpose

    A foaming agent helps to produce foams in foods by reducing surface tension, while an anti-foaming agent reduces the formation of foam in liquids.

    Source

    Foaming agents are commonly made from naturally occurring materials like licorice root and the bark of the trees (quillaja extract).

    Defoamers are commonly made from silicates, minerals that are among the most common on earth.

    Use

    Foaming agents are typically used in beverage and flavored waters.

    Anti-foaming agents are used in oils, jams and jellies, juices, sauces and liquid eggs.

  9. Humectant
    Purpose

    Help to retain or prevent the loss of moisture in foods by joining and controlling water activity. Humectants also aid in increasing the shelf life of foods by lowering microbial activity.

    Source

    Sorbitol is a common humectant in foods that is derived from the natural sugars in fruits, some vegetables and seaweed. It has moisture-stabilizing properties that help to prevent dryness and maintain freshness of foods.

    Glycerin is a humectant commonly used to control the moisture levels in foods that contain a mix of oil and water.

    Use

    Dairy, some fruits and vegetables, confections, and baked goods

  10. Preservatives
    Purpose

    Preservatives are added to foods to keep them safe for consumption by helping to prevent spoilage. Preservatives also help foods maintain their appearance, taste and texture.

    Source

    Preservatives can come in many forms, from natural and artificial to chemical. Sugars, salts and vinegars are examples of natural food preservative, which are often used to delay the growth of bacteria in foods. Antioxidants are examples of chemical preservatives. Antioxidants help to reduce oxidation in foods, increasing the shelf life of foods and preventing spoilage.

    Use

    Jellies, cured meats, oils, cereals, dressings, fruits, vegetables, and baked goods

  11. Sweeteners
    Purpose

    Sweeteners add sweetness to foods, and are often a low to no calorie sugar substitute for sugars.  They are used in small amounts to intensify or to obtain the same level of sweetness as regular sugars, without raising blood sugar levels.

    Source

    Sweeteners come from a variety of sources from plants like stevia to artificial chemicals.

    Use

    Soft drinks, canned foods, jellies and jams, baked goods, candy and dairy products