What are the common food preservatives and Why should we use them?


A food preservative is a substance added to foods to make them last longer; to “preserve” them. Preservatives are added to foods that go bad quickly and have found themselves in all kinds of products in our grocery stores.

Preservation techniques have been used as far back as the 14th century when man first used salt (salting) and smoke to stop meat and fish from going bad. Nowadays, the use of food additive preservatives has become an indispensable part of the food we eat. Despite several misgivings about their safety, our increasing demand for greater choice, ease, and convenience of foods, and our high standard of food safety, makes them a vital component in our food systems. Let’s explore the varying ways preservatives keep our foods fresh, safe, and shelf stable.

What are the different types of preservatives?

There are two types of preservatives: natural and artificial/chemical. Both aim to preserve the life of an item, though they can differ in many ways.

What are some examples of preservatives used in food?

  • Benzoic acid.
  •  Calcium Sorbate.
  •  Erythorbic Acid.
  •  Potassium Nitrate.
  •  Sodium Benzoate.

Are Preservatives Safe to Eat?

Scan a food label, and you may find the names of food preservatives long and intimidating. After all, the words “calcium phosphate” don’t trip easily off the tongue. But, all food preservatives and additives found in food are regulated by the FDA.

There’s a reason to feel somewhat cautious about preservatives: “Some research shows that certain preservatives can be carcinogenic at high levels and that others can interfere with gut health and absorption,” 

Citric Acid

Naturally occurring in citrus fruits, citric acid is a widely used GRAS preservative that can enhance the flavor of some foods.

“It’s used in items, such as jams and fruit juice to retain flavor, as well as gel-like things like jelly so they don’t change states,” Allen says. It’s also frequently used in carbonated beverages, per the FAO. It can also be included in pickle juice and other liquids that benefit from an acidic taste.

Tricalcium phosphate has several properties that make it useful in food formulation. These include the following:

  • Tricalcium phosphate is almost insoluble in water, has a very low flavor profile, and usually comes in a fine white powder.
  •  The chalky texture of tri-calcium phosphate makes it useful as a free-flowing agent, as it can take up to 10% of its weight in moisture.
  •  Its texture and color properties also make it an effective clouding agent.
  •  Ingredient labels list it as tribasic calcium phosphate, tri-calcium orthophosphate, and precipitated calcium phosphate.

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