e numbers

Oh no, not the E numbers | Day 271a

Rules of thumb can make life easier, particularly when it comes to shopping. There is such an amount of overwhelming choice out there, you want some things to be simple – such as relying on the same brand of milk or bread, or using simple criteria to eliminate certain types of products. However, it’s worth examining your criteria to see whether the logic is sound.

A rule of thumb that I’ve seen health-conscious people use is checking the ingredient list for E numbers – codes assigned to food additives of different types, such as preservatives, colours, or thickeners. If an E number is present, some will avoid the product because of chemophobia, or the perception that it is too processed, or some other consideration of that ilk. There are hundreds of ingredients that have been assigned these numbers, and the assumption often is that such additives are therefore necessarily synthetic.

But that isn’t always the case. In fact, even many vitamins have an E number, and so do spices and other completely benign ingredients you could easily find in your pantry.

Here are a few of the natural food additives.

E100 – curcumin, a yellow colour derived from turmeric

E392 – extract of rosemary, used as an antioxidant

E160c – paprika extract, a red colour

E330 – citric acid, the stuff that makes citrus fruit sour

E300 – vitamin C

E406 – agar, a thickener collected from algae

E410 – locust bean gum, a thickener extracted from the seeds of the carob tree

In fact, when it comes to gums and thickeners, most of them are derived from various naturally gelatinous plants and plant parts.

Of course, it is difficult to keep in mind what all the numbers stand for, and to know whether the source is natural or synthetic. But the bottom line is, that it doesn’t even matter. Here, have a look at the ingredients of these blueberries.

blueberry chemical content
Poster by James Kennedy Monash

Update: Upon doing a review of this blog I realised I used day number 271 for two days in a row. Which means I actually wrote 366 science stories. Ooops. I’ve changed the title of this post to reflect my day counting error.

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