What are food additives?

Food additives are substances added to foods to perform a particular function, such as enhancing the colour, appearance, flavour or texture, improving the nutritional composition, or extending the shelf life through preservation of the product.

All additives are thoroughly assessed for safety before being approved. Once approved, each additive is given an E number that is listed on the product label, along with other ingredients.

There are three main groups of additives:

  • Artificial additives: These substances are synthetically made and are not naturally found in any food products. For example, saccharin (an artificial sweetener).
  • Natural additives: These substances are found naturally in food products and are extracted from one food to be used in another. For example, beetroot juice can be used as an additive in sweets to enhance their purple colour.
  • Nature identical additives: These substances are man-made copies of those that naturally occur in food products. For example, benzoic acid is found naturally, but is also synthetically made and used as a preservative.


Food additives

All E numbers are categorised depending on their function in a food product. These include:

  • Colours – E100 to E199
  • Preservatives – E200 to E299
  • Anti Oxidants and Acidity Regulators – E300 to E399
  • Thickeners, Stabilisers and Emulsifiers – E400 to E499
  • Acidity Regulators and Anti Caking Agents – E500 to E599
  • Flavour Enhancers – E600 to E699
  • Miscellaneous E numbers – E900 to E999