By Dr Harold Gunatillake
For survival during the winter months, our ancestors have been adding preservative chemicals to the food for thousands of years. To preserve the food during those non-hunting winter seasons man has used methods such as smoking, drying, curing, pickling, salting and adding a variety of local spices and herbs to prevent unstable food from deteriorating. Scientists use the word "oxidation" for that deterioration.
Portuguese and the Spaniards sailed all the way to Ceylon (Serendib, Taprobane) in search of spices like cardamom, nutmeg, and others, to preserve their fish and meat, whilst sailing on the far seas.Salt has been used to preserve meat and fish over thousand years.
In the Jewish community around 1600 BC the salting of foods was quite common. The Mesopotamians preserved both fish and cooked meats in fired clay vessels filled with sesame oil. In China soy sauce was used as a preservative for food and also for seasoning. We like to colour and improve the appearance of food we eat. Ancient Egyptians use colour their food yellow with saffron. Presently, we cure our meat with nitrates, and making cheese using acid precipitation of milk by using an enzyme rennin. Saltpeter (potassium nitrate) was added to meat to enhance its red colour and prevent browning. Copper was used to enhance the green colour of vegetables.
Over the centuries all aspect of our food supply have undergone changes of unprecedented magnitude, reflecting the rapid growth of science and technology in the more affluent countries. You only have to visit any shopping centre in the main cities, to see these changes. There has been a revolution in the agricultural food harvesting, processing, packaging and distribution and displaying on the shelves of most food outlets and shops.
Our vegetables are getting huge due to genetic modification and as a consequence less natural taste, compared with the organic vegetables that are more tasteful and smaller in size, produced in the less developed countries. Complex synthetic foods made out of chemically cross linked corn starch or textured soy proteins combined with the appropriate food colours, flavours, etc., have resulted in artificial cheese and extended meat protein products, and the consumers are attracted by the colouring and flavouring agents, emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners, clarifiers and bleaching agents of these food items that are displayed.
To maintain the freshness and prevent deterioration
Food additives used daily in the kitchen
Antioxidants: These chemicals prevent oxygen molecules attacking the food. The food normally goes rancid due to a process called oxidation. Your front steel gate (if you have one) rusts due to the same reaction. These molecules will transform chemically the original shape, structure, edibility, and function. For this same reason all cooking oils should be kept in the refrigerator to prevent oxidation. These antioxidants are added onto oily and fatty foods, as they can dissolve in such media. These antioxidants are added to prevent rancidity, and the formation of "free radicals".
When rancid the food has a bitter taste, unpleasant flavor and odour and even more importantly producers toxic and cancer substances… These fat soluble antioxidants used in Australia and most other countries are butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), propyl, octyl,or dodectyl gallate, tocopherols (vitamin E) and phospholipids such as lecithin (in eggs). Except for BHT used in petrol, lubricating oils and rubber, all other fat soluble antioxidants are added to edible fats and oils, margarines, dairy blends, salad oils, lard, dripping, essential oils, confectionery, dried instant mashed potato, walnuts and pecan nut kernel,. BHA and BHT are also used in the manufacture of clear transparent polythene wrappers, and the amount of antioxidants migrating from the film to the food is not permitted to exceed 2mg/kg of food wrapped.
Food in which Propyl, octyl or dodecyl gallate antioxidants are permitted to be added are-edible fats, and oils, margarine, dairy blend, salad oils, lard and dripping, essential oils. Maximum proportion allowed is 100mg/kg. For essential oils the maximum amount allowed is 1g/kg. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) antioxidant is allowed to be added to foods such as edible fats and oils, margarine, dairy blends, salad oils. Lard and dripping, up to a maximum of 200mg/kg. For essential oils 1g/kg: Masticatory confectionery 200mg/kg: Dried instant mashed potato, 100mg/kg: walnuts and pecan nut kernels, 70mg/kg.
Tocopherol (vitamin E) antioxidant is allowed to be added to any food and there is no limit imposed. Anti-microbial: There are many chemical agents added to foods to control the growth of micro-organisms, such as yeasts, moulds, and bacteria. These chemicals have allowed a greater variety of foods into the market-place, and impart a longer shelf life, compared to foods that are sterilized and pasteurized which also kill micro-organisms. Food can be dehydrated using sugar or salt and changing the acidity to an unfavourable growth environment for micro-organisms.
In some situations the unfavourable microbes can be destroyed by a controlled fermentation process, as occurs, for instance, during the production of yogurt. Salt, sugar and acid have been used as anti-microbial agents for thousands of years, and are still commonly used. Sulphur dioxide and related sulphites are also used to control microbial growth in low pH products, and to combat decomposition, antioxidation and both enzymatic and non-enzymatic browning of fruits and vegetables. Sulphur dioxide is added to wines, beer, dried milk, dried potato, mustard, and many other foods. Benzoic acid and its sodium and potassium salts have the capacity to retard growth of yeasts and moulds, and some foods which are acidic. Benzoates are added to carbonated drinks, fruit juices, cider, margarine, prepared salads and occur naturally in prunes, berries, cinnamon and cloves.
Taste, odour and texture modifiers
A variety of mineral salts like table salt, vegetable salts, sugars, coffee, whiteners and baking powder, is used to prevent lumping, caking and the absorption of moisture. They are also used to remove unwanted minerals which cause undesirable changes in flavor, colour, and turbidity and may reduce the shelf life of a product by accelerating rancidity.
These macro and micronutrient organic chemicals have been consumed by humans as normal food for thousands of years. Only recently our foods have undergone chemical modification. Such products include textured soy proteins, modified starches, polyunsaturated vegetable oils, which may be handled differently by the body. We know that margarine is a product made from vegetable oils that has undergone many processes to form an unnatural trans-fat which look like butter.
This is a completely different structure even though it has the same chemical composition as normal fat.
The body is known to react differently to this particular fat and cause damage to every cell membrane in the body. Most cookery demonstrations seen on television in Sri Lanka and affluent countries are health hazards.
The demonstrators go for taste, colour and presentation, by adding many chemicals, and heating or baking in ovens, using too much of oil in most situations. Don't you think that we should learn from our ancestors, and cook food at boiling temperature of water, adding a few spices? Also, shouldn't we grow our own organic vegetables in our backyard?
Ref: FOOD CHEMICALS SENSITIVITY, Robert Buist PhD.: Harper & Row Publishers,Sydney
Copyright © 2000 ~ 2016 Ozlanka®.
Ozlanka is not responsible for the contents of this article or for any external internet sites that may be linked through this website.
The views expressed above are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or concepts of the webmaster or the owners & operators of Ozlanka.
Ozlanka and Auslanka are registered trademarks