Few developments in human history are more important than food additives and preservatives. For thousands of years, preservatives have helped keep people fed in times of need. Today, we have more preservative options than ever before – but a few tend to be used far more than the others.
These are the most common preservatives in use today.
The 5 Most Common Food Additives and Preservatives
No surprise here. Salt has been humanity’s go-to preservative throughout the ages. Even with numerous advancements in chemical and food science over the years, plain NaCl table salt is still the most commonly used preservative in the world.
- Propionic Acid
Propionic acid, as well as its salts, are the second most common type of preservative. It’s a highly effective mold inhibitor, although it is not anti-bacterial. It’s used extensively in commercial baking and is found in effectively all pre-sliced sandwich breads. It’s also commonly used in cheese-making for cheeses which lack a mold rind.
- Sodium Acid
Sodium acid is among the more expensive preservative options but is still widely used due to its low toxicity and high effectiveness. It is used across numerous types of food to prevent bacteria and fungi, particularly dairy foods, as well as margarine. Few other preservatives are as effective as antibiotics and antifungals without potentially causing problems for human health.
- Benzoic acid
Benzoic acid and its salt form Sodium benzoate are commonly used as bacteriostatic and fungistatic preservatives. It is most effective in acidic environments, so it is commonly found in pickles, sodas, and similar foods. This is fortunate because benzoic acid has a strong acidic flavor of its own, so it blends well with those types of foods.
Unfortunately, benzoic acid can break down into benzene, a known carcinogen. Current guidelines on usage prevent harmful doses from entering foods, but some avoid its use on general principle.
- Sodium Diacetate
Sodium diacetate is derived from acetic acid, an acid naturally occurring in many fruits. It can be extremely effective in preventing fungi and bacteria in a wide variety of products and is a preservative which is effective on meats and meat-derived sauces. It also sees use in preserving starchy foods like potatoes and corn.
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