The history of human food culture is the history of food preservation. Since our earliest days, we’ve been seeking ways to extend the viable life of the foods we eat and maintain their nutrition value for as long as possible. Some of these are entirely natural, others involve adding preservatives, such as the use of phosphates or sodium benzoate in food.
These are just a few of the most common ways people preserve their foods, along with their benefits and drawbacks.
Five Common Ways of Preserving Food
Nearly all types of microbial life that can spoil food require water to survive and grow. Therefore, removing water from food, such as by drying or smoking, will greatly extend its lifespan. However, not all foods can survive dehydration and still remain edible, and both the taste and texture are will be significantly altered.
Another common approach is to package foods in such a way that all air has been removed from the package. Without any oxygen as a catalyst, decay can be significantly delayed. However, this effect doesn’t last forever and will be immediately undone the moment any air enters the package, no matter how little.
The ability of high heat to sterilize foods has been known for centuries and was codified by Louis Pasteur. This is frequently seen in canning, as foods that are canned then boiled can last for months, or even years. However, it can significantly disrupt the flavor of foods such as dairy products that rely on active cultures living in the food.
Salt is the most common preservative additive in the world and can act as both a desiccant, as well as an active antibacterial agent. However, of course, salt can significantly alter the flavor of a food and can be harmful in large quantities.
- Chemical additives and preservatives
The use of chemicals such as lactates, citrates, or sodium benzoate in food has grown throughout the 20th Century and is now one of the best ways to preserve food. The wide variety of chemical preservatives means there’s a preservative out there for every need, which can limit the number of changes made to the product’s taste and texture. For many foods, chemical additives are the best way to keep them safe.
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One of the best aspects of food preservatives is that they can serve two roles as both a preservative and flavor-enhancer, particularly when they’re paired with the right ingredients. The use of sodium benzoate in food is a perfect example of this. Due to its high level of acidity, it isn’t appropriate for all foods, but it’s a perfect way to enhance and protect foods that are bitter, sour, or salty!
Why Using Sodium Benzoate in Food Makes Sense for Sour Dishes
Sodium benzoate is the sodium salt of benzoic acid and readily converts back to that acid when exposed to water. Benzoic acid is a wholly natural product, found in numerous fruits and vegetables, seafood, and even milk! Fundamentally, benzoic acid is one of nature’s own preservatives, and sodium benzoate is basically just a portable form of it that’s easily added to packaged foods.
Sodium benzoate is also considered entirely safe to consume, as long as it’s within recommended levels as enforced by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) as well as similar bodies around the world.
Sodium benzoate’s best attribute as a preservative is that it’s an anti-fungal, preventing preserved foods from becoming infected with fungus spores that could potentially make people sick. Its high level of acidity also allows it to create a generally inhospitable environment for other microorganisms as well.
Like all acidic substances, sodium benzoate has a noticeably sharp and bitter flavor, with some salty undertones as well. This means it isn’t the best choice for all-purpose preservation, but it’s perfect for dishes that are already sour, bitter, or salty. It also pairs well with many hot sauces and other sources of capsaicin heat, which also tend to be sour or bitter. In these cases, it doesn’t merely protect the food from infestation, it also enhances the taste!
Just a few of the packaged foods which frequently utilize sodium benzoate include:
- Vinegar-based salad dressings
- Soy sauce and other fermented sauces
- Acidic fruit preserves
- Fruit juices
- Soured milk products
- Ketchup, mustard, and similar condiments
In short, sodium benzoate in food is excellent for preserving and enhancing almost any food which is already somewhat bitter, sour, or acidic.
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Sometimes it seems like food additives and preservatives have gotten a bad name recently and for no good reason. Some people claim they want to go back to a time before preservatives, but those people don’t know what they’re asking for. Food preservatives are among the most important achievements and breakthroughs in human cooking history, and they are to thank for our current ability to feed people around the world.
If you’ve never stopped to think about how important food additives and preservatives are, here are a few things to chew on.
Food Preservation Is as Old as Human History
One of the greatest challenges faced by every human civilization is the problem of obtaining enough food for its people and keeping that food edible even in hard times. Everywhere on Earth, the solution was to devise food additives and preservatives.
You might think of substances such as salt and sugar as commonplace – and they are today – but thousands of years ago they were the miracle additives that allowed meats, vegetables, fruits, and more to stay good for far longer than they would normally. After all, most foods will begin to rot after just a few days. Preservatives can keep them edible for weeks, months, even years!
Today, we have a much wider range of food additives at our disposal, but the purpose remains the same: allowing as many people as possible to safely eat.
Food Additives and Preservatives Make Food Safer and Tastier
Beyond the basics of making food last longer, food additives and preservatives have numerous other uses. For example:
- Preventing disease. Nitrates are commonly added to processed meats, such as sausage, to inhibit the formation of botulism and other deadly diseases.
- Maintaining texture. Food in cans and jars tends to break down into mush. Firming agents such as calcium chloride can be added so that the food retains its texture and is still enjoyable even after months.
- Regulating food creation. Most foods created through complicated means – such as cheese-making or beer-brewing – utilize additives to help regulate the process and ensure better-quality end products.
- Improving flavor. After all, we still add salt and sugar just for the taste, even if we don’t need them as preservatives!
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There’s a lot of talk in the media about food additives, and a lot of scaremongering to go with it – speaking badly of food additive suppliers. People online speak of trying to avoid food additives altogether, but that would actually be a very poor idea. Without additives, nearly every food on your local store shelves would go bad within a matter of days, disintegrate into mush within the bottle, or worse.
The truth is food additives have an extremely important role to play in feeding the world – and they’re nothing to be concerned about. Here are some facts.
Why Are There Food Additives in So Many Products?
The vast majority of food additives are there to act as preservatives. That is, they slow down the process of decay so that food can remain edible for longer. In many cases, they allow these foods to be eaten many weeks – or even months – past the point they would be inedible without preservation.
Food additives can serve numerous other roles as well. They can act as firming agents, preventing food from getting mushy, or they can act to preserve the flavor of the food over long periods. Others preserve the color and texture of a food, such as stopping oxidation on the outside of cut fruit.
Without food additives, a trip to the grocery store would be very different!
Are Food Additives Safe?
In nearly all cases, yes. For one thing, even the most basic of ingredients and spices can be considered food additives. Sugar, salt, curry… these are just a few of the additives which have been used as preservatives throughout human history.
Even when the additives are less commonplace as those ingredients, they are carefully regulated. The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) closely monitors all food additives, and regularly tests them for their safety. Similar governmental bureaus around the world do the same thing. In all cases, the additive is either declared to be safe, or it’s kept out of foods.
In addition, these governmental agencies include guidelines and standards on maximum allowed amounts, just to make sure the preserved foods remain safe.
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If you’re looking at the ingredients list of many food products, chances are you’ll see calcium chloride listed. Finding calcium chloride in food is extremely common, as it’s a preservative that is used throughout both the food and beverage industry. It’s also Generally Recognized as Safe by the US Food & Drug administration when used at recommended levels, so it’s nothing to worry about either.
So why is calcium chloride in food? And what other purposes can it serve? Let’s take a look.
The Many Uses of Calcium Chloride in Food
Fundamentally calcium chloride is a desiccant and is often used as a firming agent. That is, it helps keep foods from becoming mushy when they sit on store shelves – particularly canned foods. You’re likely to find it in almost any canned fruit or vegetable, as it does a lot to extend the shelf lives of those foods.
However, that’s just the start of the usefulness of calcium chloride.
Another extremely commonplace use of calcium chloride is when making cheese. At a basic level, it acts as a firming agent here too – helping the cheese curds clump together and be more stable once they do.
Beyond that, it’s also highly useful for regulating the process of separating curds and whey. Small amounts of calcium chloride can be added to milk, changing both its calcium content and its pH level, which in turn will change the properties of the cheese which is made.
The substance is also used in the making of tofu, particularly firm tofu, in a similar fashion.
Calcium chloride is also commonly seen among brewers, as one of many “brewing salts” which can be added to affect the type and quality of the beer produced. It can help correct for unbalanced mineral levels, as well as – again – altering the pH of the beer. This is vital for creating a stable product!
One of the more interesting properties of calcium chloride is that when it’s combined with sodium alginate (another safe food additive) it can make liquids combine into small semi-solid spheres. This is used for making fake caviar, as well as other novelty foods.
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Wise consumers – and wise manufacturers – are aware of what additives are being put into foods, and whether there are any potential health risks. Very little in life is ever 100% safe, but food products need to be produced in a way that minimizes any possible risk. However, sometimes there can be controversies.
Sodium benzoate is one of these controversial substances. While numerous studies and government safety bureaus have declared sodium benzoate in food to be safe, it none the less attracts some critical attention. Why is that? We have a quick breakdown.
What Is Sodium Benzoate?
Sodium benzoate is a salt-like preservative, made from sodium and benzoic acid, which has been used in numerous food products for decades. It has a slightly tart, bitter flavor – due to the acid – and is, therefore, most successful as a preservative in foods that are already a bit tart or bitter.
You will find sodium benzoate in soft drinks, cider, salted products like margarine, salad dressings, fruit jams & jellies, pre-prepared vegetable salads, and many more. It is one of the most common preservatives in common use.
Is Sodium Benzoate in food safe?
Yes. Sodium benzoate itself is completely safe. It is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the American Food and Drug Administration, as well as receiving similar ratings from other governmental food regulation bodies around the world. When used in recommended quantities, it poses no direct health risk.
Why do some sources say that sodium benzoate is dangerous?
The issue is not what sodium benzoate is; it’s what sodium benzoate can become.
When sodium benzoate is in the presence of ascorbic acid – that is, vitamin C – the chemicals may interact and create benzene. Benzene is recognized as a carcinogen and is particularly known for attacking bone marrow.
This wouldn’t be an issue, except that during the 90s-00s, certain soft drinks were found to contain enough ascorbic acid to cause this reaction with sodium benzoate. When the matter was uncovered, the manufacturers of these drinks – of course – reformulated them to remove the risk. However, some damage was done to the reputation of sodium benzoate in the process.
Today, any reputable food manufacturer takes pains to ensure it does not come into contact with ascorbic acid.
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Dipotassium phosphate (DKP), along with other phosphates, are not as well-known as some other food additives, but they are vital to the production of a wide range of dairy products – particularly cheeses. Dipotassium phosphate is safe to consume, can be kosher or halal, and found in numerous products around the globe.
How does DKP improve dairy products? Here are just a few examples.
Four Ways Phosphates Make for Better Dairy Products
- As an anti-coagulant
DKP and other phosphates are among the best anti-coagulants available when dealing with dairy products. They help prevent separation of fats and oils, maintaining product viability on shelves for much longer.
In fact, you will also find DKP in non-dairy creamer products as well. It is what helps them maintain their cream-like consistency even after months on the shelf. In addition, it shields these products against the “shock” of being suddenly introduced to hot/acidic coffee when used.
- Creating processed cheeses
DKP is excellent in helping break down the cheese casein network, turning regular cheese into smooth and creamy processed cheeses. In particular, it can be found in nearly any processed cheese intended to be soft and spreadable, helping to maintain that particular consistency in the refrigerator without separation, clumping, or hardening. However, there are also uses in creating more stable processed cheese “bricks” as well.
- Acidity control
Phosphates are also common in the process of making cheeses. Maintaining pH balance is critical in cheese-making, as even minor variations can throw off a batch – either ruining it or degrading the consistency of the product. So, DKP ensures the proteins within the milk remain stable, leading to better quality control of cheese batches.
- Stabilizing bottled milk
Almost any form of pasteurized milk in a grocery will have some sort of phosphate involved. Along similar lines discussed above, phosphates help maintain the quality of the product, prevent clumping, control acid, and extend shelf life. This is also true for processed milk products, such as chocolate milk, as well as for shelf-stabilized UHT milk products.
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Dipotassium phosphate is a food additive, one which has been repeatedly ruled safe by the United States Food and Drug Administration, as well as numerous similar bodies around the world. As the name would suggest, it is created through the chemical fusion of potassium and phosphate, creating a salt that is stable at room temperature and dissolves readily in water.
Dipotassium phosphate (occasionally abbreviated to DKP) is not as common or as versatile as some other additives, but still sees use in several major areas of food and drink production.
Five Common Uses for Dipotassium Phosphate in Food and Drink
- As a buffering agent
DKP has relatively little flavor and is therefore sometimes used as a buffering agent in powdered foods – or medicines. For example, it’s commonly seen in a lot of food powders to add a safe relatively inert material.
- As an anti-coagulation agent
DKP is good at preventing coagulation in liquids which might otherwise separate while in transit, or on the shelf. One significant application, in this case, is non-dairy liquid creamers, where it maintains the creamy texture of the product across a long shelf life.
- As an antioxidant
Dipotassium phosphate is one of numerous preservatives with antioxidant properties and can be found in numerous food products because of that.
- As an anti-acid agent
DKP can be used in numerous dairy products, particularly cheeses, as a way of lowering their acid content. In some cases, it may also lower sodium levels as well, and is common in low-sodium cheese.
- As a health supplement
Perhaps the biggest single market for DKP is the health supplement market, where it is sold as a product that consumers can add to their own foods. As an excellent and safe source of both potassium and phosphates, it’s particularly popular among bodybuilders and other athletes.
Along with this, it’s seen in many protein drinks, as it can serve as both a preservative as well as a source of potassium and phosphates. It is also believed to be beneficial in reducing muscle pain after workouts, as well as improvements in the transportation of oxygen around the body.
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We are one of the world’s leaders in the production of safe and tightly controlled food additives, trusted by food manufacturers around the globe. If you would like free samples of our products for analysis, please contact us.
Plenty of chemicals and food additives are multi-purpose, but few perhaps are as versatile as calcium chloride. Finding calcium chloride in food or drink is extremely common, with uses throughout the industry – as well as other applications, including bio-medical manufacturing. It’s a safe, incredibly useful substance that is found in so many places that people might be surprised!
So, here are just a few of its uses.
Where You Might Find Calcium Chloride in Food and Drink
- As a firming agent
One major property of calcium chloride is that it works as a sequestrant. It can isolate and protect the fats in food from oxidizing, and in turn, this prevents them from breaking down when stored. So, you will very commonly see calcium chloride utilized in canned fruits and vegetables – it’s what prevents them from turning into mush on store shelves. It may even be put onto fresh fruits/vegetables, particularly those sold pre-sliced – such as apples – to prevent oxidation.
- As a salting agent
What do you do if you want something to taste salty, but you don’t want to increase your food’s sodium levels? One potential solution is to add calcium chloride. It has a very salty flavor – not exactly like table salt, but close. So, it mixes well with foods that are already salty, adding flavor and preservative properties but without adding sodium. For example, most brands of jarred pickles utilize it.
- As a freezing depressant
Calcium chloride lowers the freezing temperature of water considerably, which can be very useful in the production of some foods. This application is common in confections, such as altering the freezing point of caramel so it can be more easily added to frozen treats.
- As an electrolyte
Yes, calcium chloride also works as an electrolyte in the human body. So, it’s very commonly used in sports drinks – that’s what gives them their distinctly salty flavor. In this case, it’s pulling double duty as both electrolyte and preservative.
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Despite the current consumer push towards supposedly “all-natural” foods, anyone who looks into the subject knows that the modern food and beverage industry requires a wide variety of food additives and preservatives. Often, these additives get a very bad reputation, and for little to no reason. People think that “all-natural” foods are somehow a superior option when, most of the time, they’re objectively worse. (more…)