Sodium Benzoate is among the most commonly used artificial preservatives in food and medicine today. It is also well-studied and considered to be Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the FDA, allowing it to be used a wide variety of products.
In this article, we’ll cover what sodium benzoate is, where it comes from, its uses, and any potential health issues that might arise from overuse.
- The Basics of Sodium Benzoate
Sodium benzoate is an odorless white power, created by combining benzoic acid with sodium hydroxide (lye). Sodium benzoate is not naturally occurring and must be created in a lab, although its primary ingredient – benzoic acid – is natural. This acid can be found in many commonplace plants, such as tomatoes, cloves, cinnamon, apples, and cranberries. It is also produced as a byproduct of some fermenting processes, such as the creation of yogurt.
Benzoic acid is already a good preservative on its own. The addition of sodium hydroxide makes it more readily soluble, and therefore easier to use in a wider variety of products.
- Uses of Sodium Benzoate
Sodium benzoate was among the first artificial preservatives approved by the FDA and is therefore used widely throughout the food and beverage industry. It actively inhibits the growth of molds and bacteria, allowing for significantly extended shelf lives for treated products.
Being based in an acid, the preservative does have a noticeable sharp flavor. Therefore, it is most commonly used in products which are themselves acidic or salty, such as sodas, citric juices, pickles, salad dressing, and soy sauce.
Sodium benzoate also sees significant use in the health and beauty industries. It is commonly used as a preservative for liquid medications, such as cough syrup, and is also utilized in a wide variety of cosmetics.
III. Potential Health Issues from Sodium Benzoate
While sodium benzoate itself is harmless, in certain circumstances it can convert into benzene, which is known to be a carcinogen. This is most likely to happen when in the presence of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid). However, the process is inhibited when sugars are present, so the biggest danger is from diet sodas and fruit juices. The industry generally avoids using sodium benzoate in diet/sugar-free drinks for this reason.
Otherwise, sodium benzoate is considered entirely safe when used in proper quantities.
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