Additives- What Are They?
Food additives is a really broad category which includes preservatives, stabilizers, emulsifiers, dyes or color enhancers, and flavor enhancers. Making the subject even more complex, many additives are completely naturally occurring, others start their lives as natural products and are formulated using some pretty harsh methods, and others are highly processed and/or chemical in nature. For the purposes of this article, I’ll refer to these categories as ‘Natural’, ‘Naturally Derived’ and ‘Processed/Chemical’, although the lines between many of these additives are blurry. This is especially true when considering that some ingredients are ‘minimally processed’ (like Kosher or Sea Salt) and others are highly processed, (like MSG) and every point in between.
This is where a lot of the controversy comes in. While some people have no problem consuming highly processed foods others have allergies to certain chemical additives, or for the sake of wanting to eat a more natural diet try to avoid foods containing highly processed foods and ingredients. Generally, the more processed a food or additive is, the less nutritious it will be which is why we refer to them as ’empty calories’.
A good general example can be made by looking at sugar. One can consume sugar in its natural state by eating fruit, berries, beets, or corn on the cob, Naturally Derived sugars in the form of cane sugar or molasses, in its Processed form as high fructose corn syrup, or Chemical in the form of artificial sweeteners such as Saccharin (Sweet-n- Low) or Aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet).
So let’s look at some of the additives you may find in your hot sauce.
Naturally occurring and minimally processed additives are everywhere: Salt, sugar, and vinegar are used as preservatives. Eggs, mustard, and honey are great natural emulsifiers. Agar- agar (which is derived from red algae) and lecithin (which is usually derived from soybeans) are used as thickeners.
There are plenty of ‘Naturally Derived’ additives as well. Citric acid is naturally found in citrus. On an industrial scale it is produced by feeding the ‘A.niger’ fungus glucose or sucrose and then solidifying it using calcium hydroxide (essentially pickling lime which is caustic in higher concentrations) then drying and grinding it. Xanthan gum is made in a similar process made by the natural fermentation of glucose or sucrose which is treated with isopropyl alcohol (extremely flammable) before being dried and ground. Citric acid is a great PH stabilizer, helping the acidity in a product stay low enough to discourage bacteria growth, and xanthan gum is a thickener used in everything from sauces and salad dressings to shampoos and cosmetics. These sort of products that are in the middle of the road as far as their processing goes are generally considered safe, and many small and large companies use them in their production to ensure safety and consistency.
Mojo’s has chosen to use critic acid to help stabilize PH since many of our vegetable-based sauces have less natural acidity (such as squash). We have chosen against using an emulsifier however because we wanted to keep our ingredient lists as simple as possible and thought our customers would be happy to just shake the bottle to counteract any separation issues.
The biggest controversy surrounding additives come in to play when we talk about this last category ‘‘Processed/Chemical’ additives. This category includes MSG, Nitrates and so many of the red, yellow, and blue food dyes that have been in the news in the last few years. It also includes Sodium Bisulfate which Huy Fong Siracha uses as a color stabilizer and sterilizer, and Potassium sorbate which they add as a preservative.
Many companies will use these products to ensure shelf stability over long periods of time or guarantee consistency in color and texture from top to bottom of the bottle and from year to year of production.
Mojos does not use color enhancer but instead recognizes that our produce changes from season to season which will affect the colors of our sauce. If jalapeño and poblano peppers ripen to red one year (often due to a hot dry growing season) it will make our green sauces browner, and our yellow sauces more orange, but to us that’s just a part of being a local and seasonal company!