Removing Food Additives

Restaurant Chains are Removing Additives from Menu Items

This week in the news, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell (both owned by Yum! Brands) announced that they would be removing some food additives from their offerings.

Specifically, Pizza Hut said that it plans to remove artificial flavour and colour food additives from some of its pizzas by the end of July. Taco Bell plans to remove all artificial flavors and colours and replace them with natural alternatives by the end of 2015. Both of these press releases are vague on details, but at least one report says that Taco Bell will remove Yellow Dye #6 from its nacho cheese, Blue Dye #1 from its avocado ranch dressing, and Carmine from its red tortilla chips.

The news from Pizza Hut and Taco bell follows similar announcements from other companies like Panera Bread. The Panera Bread announcement actually lists ingredients it plans to eliminate. However, their list is not very precise (artificial colours, azo dyes, FD&C colours are listed as separate items). They also list food additives that are not currently used or whose use has already been discontinued.

Subway has also said that it will remove artificial flavors, colors and preservatives from its menu in North America by 2017. This is after the chain decided it would remove Azodicarbonamide from its bread.

It’s not just Restaurants

Nestle USA said that it would remove artificial flavors and reduce salt by 10 percent in its frozen pizza and snack products by the end of this year.

Kraft Foods has also been busy revamping their ingredient lists to remove some food additives. Last February, they announced they would stop using sorbic acid in Singles cheese slices. More recently, Kraft said that they would remove artificial colours from macaroni and cheese by the end of 2016.

Why are Companies Removing These Food Additives?

At first glance, it would seem that the natural food movement is gaining ground. The food companies are just trying to please their customers.

The problem I see is that almost all of these announcements are vague, contradictory and/or target seemingly random ingredients. They also divert attention from the fact that many of these companies’ menu items are still unhealthy.

What Food Additives are Targeted For Removal?

Some of the announcements (particularly from Panera Bread) do list specific ingredients. What they usually don’t say is what these food additives actually are and why they were there in the first place. It would also be nice to know what (if anything) will replace the additives being removed.

The following sections describe the food additives listed by Panera Bread.

Acesulfame K

Acesulfame K is an artificial calorie-free sweetener. It is sometimes referred to as Acesulfame potassium or more simply as Ace-K. It is roughly 200 times sweeter than common sugar but it has a notable bitter after taste. To mask the aftertaste, it is often combined with other artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose.


Alum powder is often found in pickling recipes. It is used as a preservative and to maintain fruit and vegetable crispness. Alum is also sometimes used as the acidic component of some commercial baking powders.

Aluminum Calcium Silicate

Silicates are food additives that are used to prevent food particles from sticking together. Specifically, look for aluminum calcium silicate in foods like dried or powdered milk, cake mixes, instant powdered soups, and instant chocolate milk.

Ammonium Chloride

Also known as sal ammoniac, ammonium chloride is commonly used as a yeast nutrient in breadmaking. In baking, it helps to give cookies a very crisp texture. Ammonium chloride tastes like salty licorice so it is also sometimes used to flavour foods and drinks.


Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used as a sugar substitute in a wide range of food and drinks. It is approximately 200 times sweeter than ordinary table sugar (sucrose). Because of this, only a very small amount of aspartame is required to sweeten foods. The amounts required are usually so small that the number of calories added by the aspartame is negligible. That’s why it is often used to sweeten diet or low calorie items.


Astaxanthin is found in algae, yeast, salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, and crayfish, It is also found in the feathers of some birds. It provides the red color of salmon meat and the red color of cooked shellfish. In the United States, it has been approved astaxanthin as a food coloring but only for specific uses in animal and fish foods.

Autolyzed Yeast Extract

When salt is deliberately added to live yeast, it becomes an entirely new food ingredient known as autolyzed yeast. Autolyzed yeast can be further processed to create a yeast extract. MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a very common food additive that is derived from autolyzed yeast. Both MSG and autolyzed yeast are used as flavour enhancers. They enhance flavours by chemically altering the your taste buds. They contain glutamic acid, an enzyme that makes it easier for the taste buds to detect savory or meaty flavors.


Azodicarbonamide has become known as the “yoga mat” chemical. But, what is it really? It is a chemical compound added to flour as a bleaching and improving agent. It is also used as a foaming agent in the production some plastic products (such as yoga mats). The fast food chain, Subway, made headlines recently when it stopped using the additive in bread. This move came after a successful online campaign and petition.

Benzoic Acid

Benzoic acid is a food preservative that does occurs naturally in some fruits and vegetables. However, on an industrial scale it is usually produced from toluene. Toluene occurs naturally at low levels in crude oil and so benzoic acid like many other organic compounds is produced as a byproduct of the petroleum industry. It is commonly found in acidic foods and beverages such as fruit juices, soft drinks, and pickles.

Benzyl Alcohol

Benzyl alcohol is a is a colorless liquid. It has a mild pleasant aromatic odor and is naturally found in the essential oils of many plants. As a food additive, benzyl alcohol is used to add flavour.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Freshly milled flour has a yellowish colour. When stored for several months, the flour becomes whiter and the baking qualities improve due to oxidation. Unfortunately, this process is slow and the results are inconsistent. Benzoyl peroxide can be used to speed up the oxidation process.


BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are closely related synthetic antioxidants. They are widely used as food preservatives. They are usually added to foods containing fat to prevent the fat from becoming rancid.

Bromated Flour

Bromated flour is flour that has been treated with potassium bromate. Potassium bromate helps to strengthen the dough so that it rises higher. It can also act as an oxidizing agent for the flour (speeding up the aging process). Under the right conditions, the potassium bromate is completely used up during baking and none remains in the final product. However, potassium bromate is a potential cancer causing chemical. So, it is very important to make sure the right baking conditions are met.

Brominated Vegetable Oil

Brominated vegetable oil is used to help emulsify citrus-flavored soft drinks. It helps to prevent them from separating during distribution. Brominated vegetable oil has been used by the soft drink industry for many years.


Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant. It is found in the seeds, nuts, or leaves of a number of plants native to South America and East Asia. As a food additive, it is probably used most in energy drinks.

Calcium Bromate

Calcium bromate is another of the food additives used to improve flour. Potassium bromate is another flour improver. It is used to strengthen the dough so that it rises higher. It can also act as an oxidizing agent for the flour (speeding up the aging process).

Calcium Peroxide

Like benzoyl peroxide, calcium peroxide can be used to speed up the oxidation process of flour. However, it is not widely used.

Calcium Sorbate

Sorbic acid is an antimicrobial agent. It is often used as a preservative in food and drinks. It prevents the growth of mold, yeast, and fungi. However, the salts of sorbic acid, sodium sorbate, potassium sorbate, and calcium sorbate, are usually preferred. This is because the salts are more soluble in water.


Canthaxanthin is a type of pigment with an orange-red colour and is approved as a food colouring additive in many countries. It occurs naturally in many foods such as mushrooms, crustaceans, fish and eggs. It has also been produced by chemical synthesis. Although it can be used for colouring food, a far more common use is to colour animal feed.


Caprenin is a common name for caprocaprylobehenin. It is a fat substitute designed for use in low calorie food. It was originally launched by Procter & Gamble as a substitute for cocoa butter. However it was difficult to use and withdrawn from the market in the mid nineties.

Caramel Color

Caramel colour is a water soluble colouring that ranges from pale yellow to dark brown. It is one of the oldest and most widely used food colourings. It might sound obvious, but it is called caramel because it is formed by a process called caramelization. Caramelization is the controlled heating of carbohydrates (sugars) usually in the presence of acids, alkalis or salts.

Carboxymethyl Cellulose

Carboxymethyl Cellulose is used as a thickener, and to stabilize emulsions in various products including ice cream.


The Cochineal is an insect. Carmine is the crimson red pigment produced by the insect, and carminic acid is the actual chemical that gives the pigment its colour.

Many people are not comfortable consuming food products made from insects. These foods are not suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Insects are not considered kosher, so they are not suitable for Jews and Muslims who follow kosher or halal diets. As a result, there has been some pressure for companies to stop using it. Starbucks replaced carmine with the tomato based dye, lycopene.


DATEM is short for diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides. It is one of many food additives used as emulsifiers. In baking to create a strong gluten network in dough. It can also be found in the production of biscuits, coffee whiteners, salsa con queso, ice cream, and salad dressings.


Diacetyl is one of the chemicals that give butter its flavour. Because of this, manufacturers of artificial butter flavoring, margarines or similar oil-based products typically add diacetyl.

Dipotassium Sulfate

Dipotassium sulfate is used to regulate the acidity in food.

Disodium Guanylate

Disodium Guanylate is used as a flavour enhancer similar to monosodium glutamate (MSG). However, disodium guanylate is expensive so it is usually used in combination with other flavour enhancers.

Disodium Inosinate

There are many food additives (like MSG) that are used as flavour enhancers. Disodium Inosinate is another one. Like disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate is expensive and so it is commonly used in combination with other additives.

Calcium Disodium EDTA

Calcium disodium EDTA is a white, odorless, crystalline powder, with a faint, salty taste. In the food industry, it is commonly used a preservative and sequestrant.

picture of ingredient list showing food additives

It is a chelating agent, meaning that it binds to metals. When the metals are bound (or sequestered), they are prevented from taking part in chemical reactions that would lead to colour or flavour deterioration. For example, when used in canned foods, such as lima beans, it prevents the beans from darkening because the iron ions and other metals found in the canning water are bound by the additive and cannot participate in other reactions.

Esters of Fatty Acids

Esters of Fatty Acids are chemicals that result from the combination of a fatty acid with an alcohol. If the alcohol component is glycerol, the fatty acid esters produced can be monoglycerides, diglycerides, or triglycerides. They are generally used as emulsifiers. Basically, that means they can be used to combine oil and water. Often this is very useful in food applications.


Ethoxyquin can be used as a food preservative. Although it is approved in the United States, it is not allowed in many other countries. Besides it use as a preservative, it is also used as a pesticide.

Fat Substitutes (Sucrose Polyester, Microparticulated Whey Protein Concentrate)

Sucrose polyester was invented in 1968 by Procter & Gamble. It was originally intended to help increase the fat intake of premature babies. Sucrose polyester is a mixture of sugar and vegetable oil, that can through the human digestive system without being absorbed. It is now marketed under the brand names Olestra or Olean.

Microparticulated whey protein concentrate is an egg and dairy whey protein product that can be used as a fat substitute in low-calorie foods. It is marketed under the brand name Simplesse.


Monoglycerides, diglycerides and triglycerides are esters of fatty acids formed by the combination of a fatty acid with glycerol. They are generally used as emulsifiers.

Glycerol Ester of Wood Rosin

Glycerol ester of wood rosin is another in the emulsifier class of food additives. Emulsifiers help to keep oil and water mixed together. Glycerol ester of wood rosin can be used as an alternative to brominated vegetable oil in citrus based soft drinks. Sometimes both glycerol ester of wood rosin and brominated vegetable oil are both used in the same product.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup is a sweetener made from corn starch. The corn starch is processed by an enzyme that converts glucose to fructose. It is very commonly used in processed foods because it is cheaper and easier to handle than granulated sugar. In Canada, high fructose corn syrup may be labelled fructose-glucose.

Hydrogenated Starch

Hydrogenated starches are used as sweeteners and as a moisture-retaining ingredient. They can prevent syrups from forming crystals of sugar. They are used to add bulk, body, texture, and viscosity to mixtures. Usually hydrogenated starches are mixed with other sweeteners.

Hydrolyzed Soy or Corn Protein

Hydrolyzed Soy or Corn Protein are used as flavour enhancers. They are often found in processed foods like soups, chili, sauces, gravies, stews and meat products. They are proteins that have been chemically broken apart into amino acids. One of the amino acids happens to be glutamic acid which forms the base of monosodium glutamate (MSG).


Lard is simply pig fat. It doesn’t have much flavour, so it is ideal for use in baked goods where flakey pastry is required.


L-Cysteine is a semi-essential amino acid that is used as a dough conditioner. It is also used when creating artificial flavours (particularly meat flavours). Industrially, much of L-cysteine for is produced by hydrolysis of human hair, poultry feathers, or hog hair.


Maltodextrin is classified as an artificial sweetener. It is usually found as a filler in sugar substitutes.

Monosodium Glutamate/Sodium Glutamate

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is one of the most common non-essential amino acids. Glutamic acid can be found naturally in fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, and mushrooms.
MSG is used as a flavor enhancer. It is used to intensify the meaty, savory flavor of food. Many people believe MSG can be a trigger for headaches.


Neotame is an artificial sweetener. It is between 7000 and 13000 times sweeter than regular table sugar (sucrose)


Nitrates in food are commonly used to preserve and maintain colour. They can be found naturally in some foods, especially in leafy green vegetables. Nitrates can also be converted to nitrites by the cooking process. They form under conditions of extreme heat such as frying. Nitrites have been linked to cancer and other health issues. Nitrites converted prior to ingestion are generally more dangerous.


Parabens are preservatives. They are used to prevent fungal growth. Common parabens used in the food industry are methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and heptylparaben. Although some parabens are naturally occurring, they are synthetically produced for commercial applications.

Partially Hydrogenated Oils

Partially hydrogenated oils are a type of trans fat. They are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid. The process is called hydrogenation. Partially hydrogenated oils are used by food manufacturers to improve the texture, shelf life, and flavor stability of foods.

* Note: The FDA has just ruled that partially hydrogenated oils are not safe. They have given manufacturers three years to remove them from food.


Polydextrose is classified as soluble fiber food additive. It is used to increase the non-dietary fiber content of food, to replace sugar, and to reduce calories and fat content.


Polysorbates are food additives used mainly as emulsifiers. One particular example is polysorbate 80 which prevents milk proteins from completely coating fat droplets. It makes ice cream smoother and easier to handle. It also helps to increase its resistance to melting.

Potassium Benzoate

Potassium Benzoate, is a preservative that is used to keep beverages fresh and safe. It protects against yeasts, moulds, and certain types of bacteria. Potassium Benzoate is used as an alternative to Sodium Benzoate, often in cases where a lower sodium content is required.
Potassium Benzoate is commonly used in soft drinks. Other uses include salted margarine, olives, sauces and relishes, jams and jellies, pastry and pie fillings, and low fat salad dressings.

Potassium Bisulfate

Potassium bisulfate may also be known as potassium hydrogen sulfate. It is used as a food preservative and as an additive in winemaking.

Potassium Bromate

In the USA, potassium bromate is to improve flour. It strengthens the dough and allows higher rising. Note that potassium bromate is already banned in several countries.

Potassium Lactate

Potassium lactate is used to adjust acidity. It is also used as preservative in cooked and/or cured meat and poultry products. It is often used as a replacement for sodium lactate when there is a need to reduce the amount sodium.

Potassium lactate is a clear odorless liquid. It is produced by by neutralizing lactic acid with a potassium compound. Lactic acid is commonly found in dairy products such as yogurt, kombucha and some cottage cheeses. However, when produced industrially, lactic acid is formed through fermentation. Bacteria convert glucose and sucrose to lactic acid.

picture of ingredient list containing calcium sodium edta
Food Additives in Margarine – Potassium Sorbate

Potassium Sorbate

Potassium sorbate is one of the most common food preservatives. It is used to slow the growth of molds and yeasts in foods. It is commonly found in margarine, wines, cheeses, yogurts, soft drinks, and baked goods. It makes a good preservative because it does not have any taste or aftertaste.

Proprionates (Calcium, Sodium)

Proprionates are food additives used as preservatives. They are commonly used to prevent mold in baked products.

Propyl Gallate

Propyl gallate is an antioxidant. It is added to foods containing oils and fats to prevent oxidation.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol is in a class of food additives called humectants. They help to keep things moist. It might be found in a wide range of products including coffee-based drinks, liquid sweeteners, ice cream, whipped dairy products and soda.

Propylene Glycol Alginate

Propylene glycol alginate is an emulsifier, stabilizer, and thickener used in food products. It is formed from alginic acid, which is derived from kelp.


Discovered in 1878 by two scientists at Johns Hopkins University, it the oldest known artificial sweetener. The name comes from the latin word for sugar, saccharum. It is roughly 300 times sweeter than regular table sugar. Saccharin is not stable when heated. As a result, it is not often used in baked goods. On the other hand, it has a long shelf life because it does not react with other foods.


Salatrim is a reduced-calorie fat substitute.

Silicones/Siloxanes (Methyl Silicon)

Silicone oils are anti-foaming agents due to their low surface tension. They are sometimes added to cooking oils to prevent excessive frothing during deep frying.

Artificial Smoke Flavor

To produce liquid smoke wood chips or sawdust are burned. As the smoke rises it is captured in a chamber, condensed and cooled into liquids. Liquid smoke can used as a food preservative and a flavouring.

Sodium Benzoate

As a food preservative, sodium benzoate seems to be the most commonly used salt of benzoic acid. In its raw form, it appears as a white crystalline powder. Sodium benzoate is a very common food preservative. It is used in soft drinks, pickles, fruit juices and salad dressings.

Sodium Diacetate

Sodium Diacetate is a salt of acetic acid. It is a colorless solid that is used in seasonings and as a preservative.

Sodium Erythorbate

Sodium Erythorbate is often found as an ingredient in processed meats. It increases the rate at which nitrite reduces to nitric oxide. This leads to a faster cure and helps to retain the pink coloring.

Sodium Lactate

Sodium Lactate is used to adjust acidity. It is also used as preservative in cooked and/or cured meat and poultry products. Sodium lactate is produced by by neutralizing lactic acid with a sodium compound.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a food additive that is used as an emulsifier and thickener. One particular used is as a whipping aid in dried egg products.

Sodium Metabisulfite

The purpose of so many food additives is preservation. Sodium metabisulfate is a food preservative. However, its use is declining because many people have allergic reactions to sulfites.

Sodium Phosphate

Sodium phosphate is used for a lot of different purposes. It can act as a leavening agent in baked goods, control the even melt of processed cheese, control the pH of foods, modify textures, act as an emulsifier, and change the surface tension in liquids (such as evaporated milk).

Stannous Chloride

Stannous chloride may be found in some canned and bottled foods. It is added to help retain colour.


Artificial sweeteners are very common food additives. Sucralose is an artificial sweetener. It is about 320 to 1,000 times sweeter than regular sugar (sucrose). It is stable under heat so it is often used in baking or in products that require a longer shelf life.


Sucroglycerides are produced by combining sugar (sucrose) with an edible fat or oil. They are used as emulsifiers. They can also be used to add texture to baked products.


There are many different sulfites that might be used as food additives. Examples include potassium bisulfite, sodium bisulfite, and sodium sulfite. They are used as preservative.

Sulfur Dioxide

While not a sulfite, sulfur dioxide is a closely related chemical. It is also used as a food preservative, especially with dried fruit. It is also added to sulfured molasses.

Tertiary Butylhydroquinone

Tertiary Butylhydroquinone is used as a preservative for unsaturated vegetable oils and many edible animal fats. It is used because it does not cause discoloration and does not change the flavor or odor of the food.


Theobromine is an alkaloid found in chocolate. It has effects similar to caffeine and may be added to foods such as bread, cereal and sport drinks.

Titanium Dioxide

Titanium dioxide is used as a food colouring additive. It is used to make foods white.


Triacetin is used as a solvent when extracting essential oils from foods (like mint and coffee). Once extracted, the oils can be used to add flavour to other processed foods.


Vanillin is the main ingredient in vanilla. However, because vanilla is such a popular flavour, natural production is not always possible. Synthetic vanillin is cheaper and more widely used. Today most vanillin is produced from the petrochemical raw material guaiacol.

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  1. […] PURPOSE: Sodium lauryl sulfate is an emulsifier for egg whites (think FOAM) but is more commonly used for personal care products (more foam) like shampoos, soaps and toothpastes. Sodium phosphate helps retain moisture and improve texture in meat. Sodium phosphate is used for a lot of different purposes. It can act as a leavening agent in baked goods, control the even melt of processed cheese, control the pH of foods, modify textures, act as an emulsifier, and change the surface tension in liquids (such as evaporated milk). [Source: Food Construed here] […]

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