Long chemical names on the back of food labels very frequently send people running for the hills. These “food additives” quickly get pegged as dangerous food fillers out to ruin the digestive systems and the very lives of consumers. One of these “scary” chemicals found in our daily diet is carboxymethylcellulose, also known as cellulose gum. It comes from the cell walls of plants, and is used to make paper. That’s right – trees, in your food. Sort of.
Fiber One, Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, and even Duncan Hines, whose Devil’s Food Cake mix pierces both your heart and arteries, contains cellulose gum. And while many resent the “lies” spewed by large food companies, proclaiming that additives are taking away from other “natural” ingredients, remember that every food we eat is made up of chemicals.
Apples are known to contain trace amounts of cyanide, and cassava, more commonly known in North America as tapioca, has enough cyanide to actually kill a man. And yet, there is no hesitation in eating these products. It is important to realize that the synthesis of a compound in a lab can be safer than one found in nature. Nature, more frequently than not, produces the most toxic compounds known to man.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, along with international organizations, regulate food additives, such as cellulose gum. After the passage of the Food Additives Amendment in 1958, any ingredient must be reviewed by the FDA to be approved as an additive.
Cellulose is an abundant, natural polysaccharide found in all plants. Cellulose gum is water-soluble gum based on cellulose. Manufactures will use an acetic acid derivative, the same acid found in vinegar, to break down the cells and form the gum. It has been used for over 50 years as a thickening agent, a stabilizer, and an emulsifier.
Gums provide many positive functions in food, without the benefit of not changing the flavor of the food to which they’ve been added. They are a good source of fiber, and can be used to reduce the calories of the food in which they’ve been added by replacing fats. They’ve provided a larger variety of foods for celiacs and other gluten sensitive individuals because those who cannot tolerate gluten can generally tolerate food gums.
Because texture, freshness, and general visual appeal all contribute to the enjoyment of food, additives aid and maintain many of the desirable aspects of food. Emulsifiers are responsible for allowing the mixing of two, usually, insoluble liquids, for example, salad dressings. And for those who believe that this is unnatural, the same result can be obtained from taking a drop from the yolk of an egg and placing it in any homemade dressing!
Ice cream, cakes, and bread all achieve better consistency, volume, and smoothness because of the addition of gums. They prevent the formation of crystals, stabilize beer foam, and help form jellies. Without pectin, another additive found from plants, there would be no Smucker’s strawberry jam, because it allows the formation of gels.
Gels and gums are just a small percent of all the additives being put into food. “Fortified foods,” which is the name given to food which has had various minerals and vitamins added to it has helped millions of people around the world. Vitamin D added to milk has helped curb rickets, a disease of the bonds. Niacin in bread and cornmeal has helped eliminate pellagra, a disease associated with the nervous system. Iodized salt has helped reduce the prevalence of goiters, or the enlargement of the thymus.
All of these food additives have helped to nearly eliminate nutritional deficiencies in the United States. They are safe and nutritious, and are added to keep consumers happy, and most importantly, healthy.
http://makingfoodbetter.org/benefits/taste-texture/ “Making Food Better”
http://www.foodadditives.org/food_gums/common.html “Food Additives”