What are natural food additives?

This brief guide will answer the query “What are natural food additives?”, additionally, it presents what food additives are and why they are important. This article also presents relevant information on synthetic food additives and who regulates them.

What are natural food additives?

Natural food additives are substances obtained by chemical, enzymatic, physical or biological extraction (e.g. fermentation) of spices, herbs, plant material or animal tissue (1,2).

What is an additive and why is it important?

Additives can be defined as a substance added to a food for techno-functional or sensory purposes. Additives are important because they can provide good texture, taste, aroma, visual, and shelf-life properties to foods (1,2). 

Interestingly, natural colorants like chlorophyll, carotenoids, and anthocyanins have very good health properties like antioxidant, anti inflammatory, and even antibacterial activity (1,2).

In the case of shelf-life, additives like preservatives can prevent your foods from being contaminated by different pathogens like Salmonella spp. or Escherichia Coli, bacteria responsible for gastrointestinal infections (1,2).

Which are the most common natural food additives?

There are plenty of natural food additives in foods, but one of the most common are starches, proteins, gelatin, lecithin, xanthan gum, guar gum, inulin, cellulose derivatives, and essential oils (3).

Natural additives have applications like colorants, preservatives, flavorants, and stabilizers (3).

What are synthetic food additives, and what are the most common?

In contrast, synthetic food additives refer to those substances obtained by chemical synthesis and generally using petroleum derivatives as a source (1).

The most common synthetic additives are synthetic colorants like red 40, sunset yellow, brilliant blue, monosodium glutamate, synthetic flavors, sucralose, among others (1).

Most of the synthetic food additives are used for color, preservative, and flavor purposes (1).

Are Natural additives safer than synthetic food additives?

No, being natural does not mean that it is safer, there are a lot of natural substances that are toxic, poisonous, hallucinogen, or in high doses can detriment your health (4).

Who regulates the use of additives in foods?

There are several agencies that regulate the use of food additives, for example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Codex Alimentarius of the World Health Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO/WHO), and other organizations (5). 

The organizations that regulate food additives are responsible for setting maximum quantities of all additives for being used in foods, independently if they are synthetic or natural (5).

Therefore, you can be sure that it is very unlikely that you are consuming toxic amounts of additives in one product.


This brief guide answered the query “What are natural food additives?”, additionally, it presented what food additives are and why they are important. This article also presented relevant information on synthetic food additives and who regulates them.


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