Common additives and what they do?
Carrageenan: This is a natural compound that comes from algae. It’s often used as a thickening agent in ice cream. “Cheaper ice cream has less fat in it, and if you didn't have carrageenan, you would need to use more fat to get the thickness you want,” says Levitksy. Carrageenan acts as a fiber in the body, he notes.
Calcium carbonate: This naturally occurring compound (used as a calcium source in many calcium supplements) is added to flours as a dough conditioner. It also functions as an anti-caking agent, says Gerald P. Kelly, senior technical consultant at UL Verification Services, Inc. in Canton, Massachusetts. Manufacturers sometimes add it to high-end salts to prevent clumping. This additive also controls the acidity of a product and may be used as a source of calcium in various foods, says Decker.
Carboxymethylcellulose: Derived from cellulose, a form of carbohydrate, this is used as a stabilizer and thickening agent in food products such as puddings. It’s also is added to provide fiber. “If a product wants to make a claim that something is high in fiber, they may use this,” Kelly explains.
Calcium chloride: A mineral salt, this is added to processed vegetables to make them firm. It’s a popular additive for pickles since it keeps them nice and crisp. “When vegetables are cooked at a high temperature, they tend to get mushy, so this may be used in the cooking water to give vegetables that are being canned a little more texture,” Decker says.
Guar gum: Made from extracts of guar seeds, this thickener changes the properties of foods such as frozen yogurt, enhancing the taste and what it feels like in your mouth, says Levitsky. “You notice the difference in texture when you dip your spoon into it and the food clings to it,” he says. Guar gum is added to ice creams and some cheese products.
Sodium acid pyrophosphate: This combination of phosphoric acid (derived from phosphate rock) and sodium hydroxide (also know as lye) or sodium carbonate (also known as soda ash) acts as a leavening agent in cookies. It provides a little bit of volume, but not has much as you would get using yeast, Kelly explains.
Potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate: A prepared fruit or potato salad purchased at the supermarket is likely to contain one of these salts, says Kelly. They increase shelf life by preventing the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast.