Emulsifiers-Stabilisers-Thickeners-Gelling Agents

Definition

EU Directive 95/2/EC (Feb 1995) provides a definition of the following food additive applications:

Emulsifiers are substances which make it possible to form or maintain a homogenous mixture of two or more immiscible phases such as oil and water in a foodstuff.

Stabilisers are substances which make it possible to maintain the physico-chemical state of a foodstuff; stabilisers include substances which enable the maintenance of a homogenous dispersion of two or more immiscible substances in a foodstuff and include also substances which stabilise, retain or intensify an existing colour of a foodstuff.

Thickeners are substances which increase the viscosity of a foodstuff.

Gelling agents are substances which give a foodstuff texture through formation of a gel.

Source

Many emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilisers and gelling agents are refined from natural sources like plants and seaweeds, including polysaccharide gums and starches, while others are made by bacterial fermentation or the chemical modification of natural cellulose to produce a synthetic version of the natural product.

E Number

Product

Application

E406

Agar (E406) from red algae of the genara Gelidium and Gracilaria.

Stabiliser (thickener, gelling agent). Gelatine substitute.

E412

Guar (E412), from Guar beans.

Stabiliser (thickener). Gelatine and Gluten substitute.

E413

Tragacanth (E413), from the sap of Astragalus shrubs.

Emulsifier (thickener, stabiliser).

E414

Acacia gum/Gum Arabic (E414), from the sap of Acacia trees.

Emulsifier (thickener, stabiliser).

E415

Xanthan Gum (E415), from bacterium Xanthomonas campestris.

Stabiliser (thickener). Gelatine and Gluten substitute.

E416

Karaya (E416), from the sap of Sterculia trees.

Emulsifier (thickener, stabiliser).

Properties

Stabilising agents inhibit the reaction between two or more other chemicals or the separation of suspensions, emulsions and foams. Examples include surfactants (which lower the surface tension or interfacial tension between liquids) and emulsifiers. One of the main functions of a stabilising agent is to act as a thickening agent to gel foodstuffs to the required consistency. Stabilising and thickening agents work with emulsifiers to maintain the texture of food, and create texture in water-based products that would otherwise be too runny to appeal to consumers.

Emulsifying agents stabilise an emulsion, creating a homogenous mixture of two or more immiscible liquids that would otherwise not mix together. They have both water-loving (hydrophilic) and oil-loving (hydrophobic) molecules that prevent the coalescence and separation of the liquids by reducing the interfacial tension between the liquids and forming a stable interfacial film.

Most emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilisers and gelling agents tend to be odourless and tasteless. Polysaccharide gums contain sugar molecules but the majority have little calorific value, so are used as bulking agents or fibre-rich laxatives. Most polysaccharide gums can form gels at room temperature, becoming more viscous when stirred, but thickening up again after the mixing stops.

Uses

Food Industry

Texture is important for how appetising food looks and feels in the mouth, as well as for digestion. Emulsifiers, stabilisers, thickeners and gelling agents are used as food additives to maintain consistent texture and prevent the separation of ingredients in products like butter, margarine, salad dressings, vinaigrette, mayonnaise, creamy sauces, milk, ice cream, and other dairy products. The development of many reduced-fat and low-fat versions of these products has also been made possible by these food additives. In addition, they are used in bread and other baked products to assist the absorption of fat into the dough, which results in enhanced volume, a softer crumb structure and a longer shelf-life.

Different food additives produce different textures when used as an ingredient. Specific emulsifiers, stabilisers, thickeners and gelling agents tend to be chosen to maintain the consistency of the desired food texture. Certain foods utilise gum stabilisers, while others use starch or phosphates. For instance, gum and starch stabilisers are frequently used in salad dressings, frozen desserts, snack foods, cereal products, pudding mixes, jams, jellies and beverages. The food additives used also differ according to food processing method used for different foods. Pectin is often used as a stabiliser if the food is served hot, while alginate gelling agents are preferred if it is served cold.

Vegetarian and vegan food products often use Agar Agar, Carrageenan, Guar and Xantham as substitutes for Gelatine, since the latter is derived from collagen, obtained from various animal by-products. Gluten-free food products also use Guar and Xantham to replace wheat and related grains.

Listed in the table at the bottom of this page are some of the main food additives approved by the European Union (EU) for use as emulsifiers, stabilisers, thickeners and gelling agents, including the food categories in which their use is authorised and the maximum levels allowed within those food categories.

Confectionery Industry

Emulsifiers, stabilisers, thickeners and gelling agents are used in the manufacture of candies. For example, emulsifiers are added to chocolate to obtain the right consistency for moulding into chocolate bars and to extend shelf-life by delaying the onset of bloom, which occurs when the surface of the chocolate dulls or turns white due to being stored at too high a temperature.

Pharmaceutical Industry

Emulsifiers, stabilisers, thickeners and gelling agents are used in medications and nutritional supplements (e.g. cod liver oil).

Cosmetics Industry

Emulsifiers, stabilisers, thickeners and gelling agents are widely used for haircare and personal hygiene products, such as ointments, creams, emollients, balms and pastes.

Other Industries

Thickeners are used in paints, printing inks and explosives.

 

EU Food Category

E406 - Agar

E412 - Guar gum

E413 - Tragacanth

E414 - Gum Arabic

E415 - Xanthan gum

E416 - Karaya gum

Dairy products and analogues (1)

           

Flavoured fermented milk products including heat-treated products (1.4)

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

ML = 6000 mg/l.

Unflavoured live fermented cream products and substitute products with a fat content of less than 20% (1.6.2)

QS.

QS.

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Fruit and vegetables (4)

           

Canned or bottled fruit and vegetables (4.2.3)

N/A

QS, only chestnuts in liquid.

N/A

N/A

QS, only chestnuts in liquid.

N/A

Jam, jellies and marmalades and sweetened chestnut puree as defined by Directive 2001/113/EC (4.2.5.2)

ML = 10000 mg/kg. See footnote 32.

ML = 10000 mg/kg. See footnote 32.

N/A

N/A

ML = 10000 mg/kg. See footnote 32.

N/A

Other similar fruit or vegetable spreads (4.2.5.3)

As above

As above

N/A

N/A

As above

N/A

Confectionery (5)

           

Cocoa and Chocolate products as covered by Directive 2000/36/EC (5.1)

N/A

N/A

N/A

QS, as glazing agent only.

N/A

N/A

Chewing gum (5.3)

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

ML = 5000 mg/kg.

Decorations, coatings and fillings, except fruit-based fillings covered by category 4.2.4 (5.4)

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

ML = 5000 mg/kg, only fillings, toppings and coatings for fine bakery wares and desserts.

Meat (8)

           

Meat preparations as defined by Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 (8.2)

N/A

QS, only preparations in which ingredients have been injected; meat preparations composed of meat parts that have been handled differently: minced, sliced or processed and that are combined together. Except bifteki, soutzoukaki, kebap, gyros and souvlaki.

QS, only preparations in which ingredients have been injected; meat preparations composed of meat parts that have been handled differently: minced, sliced or processed and that are combined together. Except bifteki, soutzoukaki, kebap, gyros and souvlaki.

N/A

QS, only preparations in which ingredients have been injected; meat preparations composed of meat parts that have been handled differently: minced, sliced or processed and that are combined together. Except bifteki, soutzoukaki, kebap, gyros and souvlaki.

N/A

Sugars, syrups, honey and table-top sweeteners (11)

           

Table-Top Sweeteners in liquid form (11.4.1)

N/A

QS.

QS.

QS.

QS.

N/A

Table-Top Sweeteners in powder form (11.4.2)

N/A

QS.

QS.

QS.

QS.

N/A

Table-Top Sweeteners in tablets (11.4.3)

N/A

N/A

N/A

QS.

N/A

N/A

Salts, spices, soups, sauces, salads and protein products (12)

           

Sauces (12.6)

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

ML = 10000 mg/kg, only emulsified sauces.

Foods intended for particular nutritional uses as defined by Directive 2009/39/EC (13)

           

Infant formulae as defined by Directive 2006/141/EC (13.1.1)

N/A

ML = 1000 mg/kg, only where the liquid product contains partially hydrolysed proteins.

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Follow-on formulae as defined by Directive 2006/141/EC (13.1.2)

N/A

ML = 1000 mg/kg. See footnote 17.

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Processed cereal-based foods and baby foods for infants and young children as defined by Directive 2006/125/EC (13.1.3)

N/A

ML = 10000 mg/kg, only processed cereal based foods and baby foods. ML = 20000 mg/kg, only gluten-free cereal-based foods. See footnote 21.

N/A

ML = 10000 mg/kg, only processed cereal based foods and baby foods. ML = 20000 mg/kg, only gluten-free cereal-based foods. See footnote 21.

ML = 10000 mg/kg, only processed cereal based foods and baby foods. ML = 20000 mg/kg, only gluten-free cereal-based foods. See footnote 21.

N/A

Other foods for young children (13.1.4)

N/A

ML = 10000 mg/kg. See footnote 21.

N/A

ML = 10000, See footnote 21.

ML = 10000 mg/kg. See footnote 21.

N/A

Dietary foods for infants for special medical purposes and special formulae for infants (13.1.5.1)

N/A

ML = 10000 mg/kg, from birth onwards in products in liquid formulae containing hydrolysed proteins, peptides or amino acids.

N/A

N/A

ML = 1200 mg/kg, from birth onwards for use in products based on amino acids or peptides for use with patients who have problems with impairment of the gastrointestinal tract, protein mal-absorption or inborn errors of metabolism.

N/A

Dietary foods for babies and young children for special medical purposes as defined in Directive 1999/21/EC (13.1.5.2)

N/A

As above

N/A

N/A

As above

N/A

Dietary foods for special medical purposes defined in Directive 1999/21/EC (excluding products from food category 13.1.5) (13.2)

QS, only foods inn tablet and coated tablet form

 

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Beverages (14)

           

Beer and malt beverages (14.2.1)

N/A

N/A

N/A

QS.

N/A

N/A

Spirit drinks as defined in Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 (14.2.6)

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

ML = 10000 mg/l, only egg-based liqueurs.

Ready-to-eat savouries and snacks (15)

           

Potato-, cereal-, flour- or starch-based snacks (15.1)

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

ML = 5000 mg/kg, only cereal- and potato-based snacks.

Processed nuts (15.2)

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

ML = 10000 mg/kg, only coating for nuts

Desserts excluding products covered in category 1, 3 and 4 (16)

         

ML = 6000 mg/kg.

Food supplements as defined in Directive 2002/46/EC excluding food supplements for infants and young children (17)

           

Food supplements supplied in a solid form including capsules and tablets and similar forms, excluding chewable forms (17.1)

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

QS.

Food supplements supplied in a liquid form (17.2)

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

QS.

Food supplements supplied in a syrup-type or chewable form (17.3)

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

QS.

Abbreviations:

ML = Maximum Level
QS = Quantum Satis
N/A = Not Applicable

Footnotes:
17 - If more than one of the substances E407, E410 and E412 is added to a foodstuff, the maximum level established for that foodstuff for each of those substances is lowered with that relative part as is present of the other substances together in that foodstuff.
21 - E410, E412, E414, E415 and E440 are authorised individually or in combination
32 - Maximum individually or in combination with E400-404, E406, E407, E410, E412, E415 and E418.

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