Food Additives and Ingredients: Hard to Pronounce, Safe to Use

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We get it. Some of those ingredients listed on the package can be hard to pronounce. But rest assured, as these ingredients are all considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their functionality in food. Let’s take a closer look to understand their role in our favorite foods.

Thiamine mononitrate is also known as Vitamin B1. Vitamin B1 helps maintain healthy nervous and cardiovascular systems. It is added to certain foods to maintain nutrient content during processing. When you see thiamine mononitrate on your package of crackers, it is there for good reason.

Magnesium stearate is commonly used in food to bind sugar in hard candies like mints and is a common ingredient in baby formula. It also has lubricating properties that help separate ingredients from equipment at different points during the manufacturing phase.

Carrageenan is a naturally occurring food ingredient extracted from red seaweed. It is a starch-like product that has been used in food for hundreds of years for its ability to form gels, thicken solutions and stabilize products. These functions help to provide better-tasting, more palatable food choices. Some food products that contain carrageenan are chocolate milk (keeps cocoa powder suspended and evenly distributed in milk), ice cream and other dairy products (prevents whey separation), salad dressings (improves texture), soy milk (acts as a thickening agent) and some meat products (acts as a binding ingredient).

Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG, is made from sodium and glutamate and is produced by natural fermentation. MSG is often produced through the fermentation of sugar cane or tapioca, but in the U.S., it is primarily produced through the fermentation of corn. Glutamate is an amino acid (the building block of proteins) and occurs naturally in both plant and animal proteins. MSG amplifies the flavor of a variety of foods in which it is naturally present, including meat, poultry, seafood and many vegetables. It is also used as an added ingredient that enhances the flavor of many prepared foods such as soups, stews, meat-based sauces, and snack foods.

The FDA has an online database of information about “everything added to food in the United States.” So the next time you see an ingredient you are unsure about, take the opportunity to educate yourself about what is really going in to your food. Just because you can’t pronounce it, doesn’t mean it isn’t safe.

This article was reviewed by Megan Meyer, PhD.