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Humectants as Food Additives

Humectants are additives that bind water and control aw. Water activity reduction achieved by adding humectants to food enhances stability, maintains texture, and reduces microbial activity. Humectant use in foods is widespread and has a long history. Salt and sugar are the oldest, most widely used humectants. Other commonly used humectants include sorbitol, glycerol, and propylene glycol. As food additives, humectants must meet several criteria for acceptance: safety, lack of adverse odors and flavors, nutritional value, economy, and ease of use. A primary benefit is the reduction of microbial activity in foods, achieved through reduction of aw to less than 0.90. Water Activity and Food Degradation Rates of degradation due to microbial action increase with higher water activities. Many common bacteria proliferate at aw > 0.9. Some yeasts can develop at aw as low as 0.6 to 0.7, requiring either additional lowering of a w or addition of antimicrobial agents. Microbial activity can be reduced by drying foods, thereby lowering the moisture content and aw, but the addition of humectants reduces aw, while retaining moisture. Food Treatment Blending, moist infusion, and dry infusion methods are commonly used to treat foods with humectants. Blending involves mixing the product with a humectant solution and requires that the food product be mixed or homogenized. With moist infusion, the food product is soaked in the humectant solution. Dry infusion involves first drying or dehydrating the product and then soaking it in the humectant solution.

Anti-Caking Agents
Processed foods often contain ingredients that are mixed as powders. Anti-caking agents are added to allow them to flow and mix evenly during the food production process. They rarely have nutritional value and only a small proportion of the additives find their way into the food. Some anti-caking agents may be found in foods. For example, magnesium carbonate is used in table salt to improve its flow during manufacture. It is left in the salt so that it flows well when being sprinkled onto food. Examples of foods that contain anti-caking agents include: vending machine powders (coffee, cocoa, soup) milk and cream powders grated cheese icing sugar baking powder cake mixes instant soup powders drinking chocolate table salt What would happen without anti-caking agents? Powders can form clumps because the particles become sticky when they absorb water. Lumpy powders do not flow evenly. Some powders, such as grated cheese for pizza toppings, can stick together and this again prevents them from being spread evenly. Anti-caking agents modify the contact between the powder's particles and are added to prevent these problems. Without anti-caking agents, vending machine powders such as coffee or chocolate would not flow regularly. They could block the various tubes in the vending machine and the taste of the drinks would not be consistent enough. Powdered milk can clump together during processing, packing and storage. Sugar absorbs water and incorporating a free-flow aid before grinding prevents it sticking to the processing equipment. The range of anti-caking agents One of the most important anti-caking agents is silicon dioxide (E551). It is manufactured to have physical properties that are tailored to meet the food producer's specific requirements. Other manufactured anti-caking agents include: calcium silicate (E552), sodium aluminosilicate (E554) and dicalcium phosphate (E341). Natural products such as talc, kaolin, potato starch and microcrystalline cellulose (E460) are also used.