Antioxidants maintain the colour of freshly cut fruit and vegetables. They include ascorbic acid (E300), which is simply vitamin C, and citric acid (E330), the acid found in lemon juice.
Nitrates and nitrites, either sodium or potassium (E249-E252), prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum, the highly pathogenic bacterium responsible for botulism. They are used in the preparation of meat such as ham and frankfurters. Similarly, sulphur dioxide and sulphites (E220-E228) inhibit bacterial growth in wines and fermented foodstuffs.
Lecithin (E322), naturally present in egg yolk and soybeans, helps create and stabilise water/oil emulsions, notably in mayonnaise, but also in chocolate, spreads, sauces, ice creams and numerous other products.
Pectin (E440) is a polysaccharide present in large quantities in the cell walls of plant matter, including those of apple pips. Its gelling-properties are frequently put to good use, to give the desired consistency to jam.
The most well-known sweeteners are aspartame (E951), acesulfame potassium (E950) and saccharin (E954), the oldest artificial sweetener, first made in 1879. They are between 200 and 500 times sweeter than sugar (saccharose) with the advantage of containing virtually no calories. Thaumatin (E957), a natural protein extracted from the Thaumatococcus daniellii plant, is the most potent natural sweetener, 2500 times sweeter than sugar. Sorbitol (E420), isomalt (E953) and maltitol (E965) are bulk sweeteners. They contain few calories and are incorporated into food products to add sweetness, while also improving smoothness and volume. Excessive consumption of these three polyols can lead to bloating and diarrhoea.
Sodium glutamate (E621), also called ‘monosodium glutamate’ or MSG, is the most well-known flavour enhancer. Glutamate is a nonessential amino acid comprising proteins and is present in high quantity in free form in Parmesan cheese, dried tomatoes and soy extracts. It gives food its umami taste, one of the five basic tastes. MSG is a controversial additive, and its use and effects have been the subject of numerous studies. National and international regulatory bodies conclude that the results of these studies do not raise objection to the use of glutamate in our food.