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| Potentially edible!|
E numbers are the codes for designated food additives which have been assessed for consumption by the European Union - the E stands for
evil European. Some people think that all foods should be produced without E numbers as they are all toxic food additives which may either cause cancer or make children hyper-active and unruly. Some "health" products proclaim themselves as "free of E numbers."
This is, of course, mostly bollocks. The entire point of "E numbers" is twofold; firstly a number recognises that the additive has been tested and is safe, and secondly the number is designed to cut down on excessive chemical jargon on food labels, standardising such ingredients across the many languages in Europe which don't always use the same chemical nomenclature. Thanks to prejudices formed against E numbers, many food companies have decided to switch back to full chemical names for their ingredients. So while your food may contain "ascorbic acid", at least it doesn't contain any of that nasty E300 shit!
Some compounds with assigned E numbers have been removed from use after new evidence indicated that they may be potentially harmful. This was the case for several dyes derived from coal tar after weak evidence was found that they may be associated with hyperactivity in children: E102 (tartrazine), E104 (quinoline yellow), E110 (sunset yellow FCF), E122 (carmoisine), E124 (ponceau 4R), E129 (allura red). The truth may be that these dyes were typically added to foods high in sugar, and hyperactivity has many causes.
Ironically, some E numbers have no application in food production. This includes E939 (Helium). Others, such as E941 (Nitrogen) are used in food packaging.
What are they?
They are grouped into the following categories
- E100–E199 (colours)
- E200–E299 (preservatives)
- E300–E399 (antioxidants, acidity regulators)
- E400–E499 (thickeners, stabilizers, emulsifiers)
- E500–E599 (acidity regulators, anti-caking agents)
- E600–E699 (flavour enhancers)
- E700–E799 (antibiotics)
- E900–E999 (miscellaneous)
- E1000–E1999 (additional chemicals)
Some really nasty ones that you probably don't want to have in your food:
- E101 - Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
- E150a - Plain caramel
- E160c - Paprika extract; capsanthian; capsorubin
- E160d - Lycopene
- E161b - Lutein
- E175 - Gold
- E290 - Carbon dioxide
- E300 - Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)
- E307 - Alpha-tocopherol (Vitamin E)
- E308 - Gamma-tocopherol (Vitamin E)
- E309 - Delta-tocopherol (Vitamin E)
- E322 - Lecithin
- E330 - Citric acid
- E392 - Extracts of rosemary
- E410 - Locust bean gum, carob gum
- E460 - Cellulose
- E901 - Beeswax
- E939 - Helium
- E941 - Nitrogen
- E948 - Oxygen (used to make meat look redder)
- UK Food Standards Agency - Current EU approved additives and their E Numbers
- The Independent - Additives: it's time to look on the bright side
- BBC News - The day I ate as many E numbers as possible
- E-numbers should be banned in food and drink, say MPs
- Facebook campaign to Ban E Numbers in Children's Food
- Daily Mail - E numbers should be banned: A trenchant attack on the food industry (08 September 2007)
- Food colours and hyperactivity, NHS, UK, reviewed 12 April 2017
- Essential Guide to Food Additives, edited by Michael Saltmarsh, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2013