Preservatives and additives in processed food and water

Preservatives are added to processed food to keep it longer from spoiling, usually countering the actions of bacteria growing on the food, enzymatic degradation or countering food oxidation. Other additives are food colorants, most of which could be eliminated or replaced by natural colorants such as turmeric (yellow), beet juice (red) or the ink of squid (black).

The invention of the refrigerator and freezer has made large contributions to being able to keep food longer fresh.

The most common preservative

The most common preservative is salt or sodium chloride. Traditionally, salt is added to help preserve fish, meat and vegetables sometimes in combination with a drying process. In many processed meats so-called pink salt is added, which is sodium nitrite. In combination with salt it extends the storage time and it makes the color of meat look more reddish and inhibits bacteria growth. More salt allows for lower amounts of sodium nitrite for the same preserving effect. Sodium nitrite is suspect as a carcinogen. In all processed fish and meat recipes on only salt and/or naturally occurring acids and herbs are used.

Other common preservatives

Another common preservative is benzoic acid, or its salt, sodium or potassium benzoate. It is a man-made additive but also is found naturally in fruits. The acid form has the preserving properties. The additive is therefore applied in acidic foods (such as low sugar jams). Sometimes a similar preserving effect can be obtained by the potassium salt of vitamin C (potassium sorbate), which is an antioxidant by itself. Trace metal ions, under certain conditions, can catalyse the formation of benzene, which is a very toxic carcinogen, from benzoic acid. Therefore often EDTA (ethylelediamine tetra acetic acid or its di sodium salt) is also added to sequester the catalysing metal ions, but which are then also less available for the body.

Sodium sulphite

is used to keep oxygen out and is an effective man made antioxidant, by reacting with oxygen to form harmless sodium sulphate. It is commonly added to wines and dried fruit. Some people develop allergies.

Butylated hydroxy toluene (BHT)

is also an anti-oxidant and is mainly used to prevent unsaturated oils from oxidizing and thus becoming rancid.  It is often added to vegetable oils, cereals and potato chips. It decomposes quickly at higher temperature in frying oils while no studies have been made into the toxicity of the decomposition products. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) has a similar function, but is more suspect to become carcinogenic when absorbed in the human body.


bromate is sometimes added to white flour to increase its volume. Better to avoid that flour.


is an artificial sweetener. Better to avoid foods that contain it, unless for health reasons.

High fructose corn syrup:

the cheapest and most widely used added sugar by the industry also in low or non-fat formulations. It is recommended to only sparingly consume added sugars in our diet to reduce the chance of contracting diabetes2.

Mono-sodium-glutamate (MSG)

this is the sodium salt of a naturally occurring amino acid and provides for a umami taste. Therefore it is an easy and cheap additive to create this taste. Some people suffer problems when too much is consumed. Please note that in the simple Asian cuisine, MSG is used abundantly and can be found on grocery shelves next to salt, often taking an equal amount of shelf space. Its usage in our own kitchen can be well managed or simply eliminated. It often is an ingredient in instant (dried) soups and sauces, certain broth cubes and chicken broth powder.

Chlorine and chloramine

are generally added to drinking water to prevent bacteria and virus growth. These chemicals have a bad taste and may form toxic side products and should therefore be removed from water used for cooking and ingestion. Chlorine can be removed by boiling and by filtration over carbon or by reverse osmosis. Chloramine only by the latter two methods. Using chlorinated tap water to develop (naturally) leavened breads should be avoided. The chlorine prevents the microorganisms from developing.

There are many additives used in the industrial production of bread, mainly to reduce the production time and to make a bread  that is experienced longer ‘fresh’. only uses artisan methods for making bread