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Food ingredients enhance shelf life
Wednesday, 22 June, 2022, 14 : 00 PM [IST]
Dr Prakash Kondekar
Chemical compounds that determine flavour, colour, texture and nutrient value, are food ingredients. There are more than 3,000 such ingredients, internationally known. A few of them are like sugar, baking soda, salt, vanilla, yeast, spices, almonds, hazelnuts, nutmeg, protein powder. nuts, dried fruits and many food colours.

Since last many centuries, nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), bay leaves,  black pepper, capsicum cultivars, cayenne (chilli) powder, curry leaves, garlic, ginger, mint, mustard, onion---Onion oils and such other things are being used as food ingredients, regularly.

From the point of convenience and also for extension of shelf life, many natural ingredients have their forms without changing much of its nutrient contents.

All food ingredients are regulated by regulatory authorities. Many international organisations ensure that foods are safe to eat and are accurately labelled.

Some additives could be eliminated if we are willing to grow our own food, harvest and grind it, spend many hours cooking and canning or accept increased risks of food spoilage. But most consumers today rely on the many technological, aesthetic and convenient benefits that additives provide. This has changed the market scenario for last few years. Ingredients improve or maintain nutritional value. Vitamins and minerals (and fibre) are added to many foods to make up for those lacking in a person's diet or lost in processing, or to enhance the nutritional quality of food. Such fortification and enrichment has helped reduce malnutrition worldwide. All products containing added nutrients are being appropriately labelled. Preservatives slow product spoilage caused by mould, air, bacteria, fungi or yeast. In addition to maintaining the quality of the food, they help control contamination that can cause foodborne illness, including life-threatening botulism. One group of preservatives -- antioxidants -- prevents fats and oils and the foods containing them from becoming rancid or developing an off-flavour. They also prevent cut fresh fruits such as apples from turning brown when exposed to air. Spices like ingredients, improve taste, texture and appearance. Food colours maintain or improve appearance. Emulsifiers, stabilisers and thickeners give foods the texture and consistency consumers expect. Leavening agents allow baked goods to rise during baking. Some additives help control the acidity and alkalinity of foods, while other ingredients help maintain the taste and appeal of foods with reduced fat content.

A food additive is any substance added to food. Legally, the term refers to "any substance the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result -- directly or indirectly, in it becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food." This definition includes any substance used in the production, processing, treatment, packaging, transportation or storage of food. Direct food additives are those that are added to a food for a specific purpose in that food. For example, xanthan gum -- used in salad dressings, chocolate milk, bakery fillings, puddings and other foods to add texture. Indirect food additives are those that become part of the food in trace amounts. A colour additive is any dye, pigment or substance which is added or applied to a food, drug or cosmetic, or to the human.

Nowadays, food and colour additives are more strictly studied, regulated and monitored than at any other time in history.

Also, now, prior-sanctioned substances that FDA had determined safe for use in food prior to the amendment, examples are sodium nitrite and potassium nitrite used to preserve luncheon meats. GRAS (generally recognised as safe) ingredients - are those that are generally recognised by experts as safe, based on their extensive history of use in food before 1958 or based on published scientific evidence.

Among the several hundred GRAS substances are salt, sugar, spices, vitamins and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Manufacturers may also request that FDA review the industry's determination of GRAS Status. If an additive is approved, FDA issues regulations that may include the types of foods in which it can be used, the maximum amounts to be used, and how it should be identified on food labels. In 1999, procedures changed so that FDA now consults with USDA during the review process for ingredients that are proposed for use in meat and poultry products. Federal officials then monitor the extent of Americans' consumption of the new additive and results of any new research on its safety to ensure its use continues to be within safe limits. Regulations known as Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) limit the amount of food ingredients used in foods to the amount necessary to achieve the desired effect.

Thus many food ingredients have been used for many years to preserve, flavour, blend, thicken and colour foods, and have played an important role in reducing serious nutritional deficiencies among consumers. These ingredients also help ensure the availability of flavourful, nutritious, safe, convenient, colourful and affordable foods that meet consumer expectations year-round.

Certified colour additives are categorised as either dyes or lakes. Dyes dissolve in water and are manufactured as powders, granules, liquids or other special-purpose forms. They can be used in beverages, dry mixes, baked goods, confections, dairy products, pet foods and a variety of other products. Lakes are the water-insoluble form of the dye. They are more stable than dyes and are ideal for colouring products containing fats and oils or items lacking sufficient moisture to dissolve dyes. Typical uses include coated tablets, cake and donut mixes, hard candies and chewing gums.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and confirmed food allergy, dietary modification has produced some improvement in behaviour.

Natural ingredients are derived from natural sources (e.g., soybeans and corn provide lecithin to maintain product consistency; beets provide beet powder used as food colouring). Other ingredients are not found in nature and therefore must be synthetically produced as artificial ingredients. Also, some ingredients found in nature can be manufactured artificially and produced more economically, with greater purity and more consistent quality, than their natural counterparts. For example, vitamin C or ascorbic acid may be derived from an orange or produced in a laboratory. Food ingredients are subject to the same strict safety standards regardless of whether they are naturally or artificially derived. Low-calorie sweeteners do not cause adverse reactions. Persons with a rare hereditary disease known as phenylketonuria (PKU) must control their intake of phenylalanine from all sources, including aspartame. Individuals who have concerns about possible adverse effects from food additives or other substances should contact their physicians.

Adding nutrients to a cereal can cause taste and colour changes in the product. This is especially true with added minerals. Since no one wants cereal that tastes like a vitamin supplement, a variety of techniques are employed in the fortification process. In general, those nutrients that are heat-stable (such as vitamins A and E and various minerals) are incorporated into the cereal itself.

Many new techniques are being researched that will allow the production of additives in ways not previously possible. One approach is the use of biotechnology which can use simple organisms to produce food additives. These additives are the same as food components found in nature.

It is interesting to note that, using many food ingredients shelf life and colour of many food preparations can be enhanced.

(The author is hon director, Indian Institute of Naturopathy. He can be reached on kondekar.prakash@gmail.com)
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