The Collison Newsletter August 2007


                                   FOOD ADDITIVES *  

                Tartrazine, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), Sulphites and Caramel 


There are more than 6,000 additives available to the food industry. Of these, some 400 are permitted additives in Australia. More than half are flavours, both natural and synthetic, while the remainder includes colorants, preservatives, antioxidants, emulsifiers, thickeners, acids, bases, anti-caking agents, improvers, flavour enhancers, glazing agents, bleaching agents, sweeteners and solvents.


Additives are classified according to their function, as outlined above. In Australia, each additive must be listed on the food label first by its class, and then, except for flavours, either by its name or code number. For example, flavour enhancer, monosodium glutamate, 621.


I have listed and described the main classes of additives and their functions in ‘How to Stop Feeling So Awful’ (see homepage), chapter17 ‘The Problems Caused by Chemicals in Foods’, pages 130-131.

Read the Label 

When we read the label of a packaged food and see a number, what does it mean?


To give but one example: 102 or E102. When this is on a label, it means that the colorant tartrazine is present in, or has been added to, the product. The E refers to European food additives – ‘E numbers’. Tartrazine is a synthetic, artificial colour and is widely used to give a yellow to orange colour in a large variety of foods and even pharmaceutical drugs. It is well known to have side effects such as increasing hyperactivity in affected children, asthma attacks in sufferers of this condition and hypersensitive/intolerance reactions which can even result in unconsciousness.

Without a chart to identify these numbers, they are meaningless.

Where to Find out about Additives? 

A complete list of Food Additives with E-numbers, non E-numbers, name, category and side effects can be viewed on the web at


The book ‘The Chemical Maze’ by Bill Statham (2nd edition, published by, PO Box 450 Pambula, NSW 2549, Australia) is an excellent guide to food additives (as well as cosmetic ingredients), and is highly recommended.


In order to explain and illustrate some of the complexities involved in knowing exactly what additives are in the foods you consume, and the safety (or otherwise) of these additives, this newsletter looks at four additives:

  • 102, tartrazine
  • 621, monosodium glutamate
  • 220-228, sulphites
  • 150, caramel

102, Tartrazine

This additive is discussed in the introduction above.

It is essentially straight forward, as many food additives are. If it is in the food, the number will be on the label. All that is then required is to refer to a code breaker, such as ‘The Chemical Maze’, to find out what it is and the possible problems it may cause.

621, MSG, Monosodium Glutamate 

This additive is highly complex due to the many foods containing MSG that do not declare MSG and that are not labelled appropriately. Thus it is essential to have a separate ‘code-breaking’ list.


Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the most widely used flavour enhancer.


If 621 and/or monosodium glutamate or MSG is on the label, then the product contains this flavour enhancer.


The absence of 621 or MSG on the label does not, necessarily, mean that the product does not contain MSG, or is free from MSG. Yes, this is a double negative, but it must be emphasised that, in this instance, the absence of 621 / MSG on the label does not guarantee an absence of MSG.


For example, if the label lists the ingredient HVP, we know that hydrolysed vegetable protein is present in the food. So? You may well ask. You are supposed to know that HVP contains (significant amounts of) MSG. Because MSG is within the product HVP, and has not been added to the food in its own right, 621 / MSG does not have to be declared on the food label.


MSG is not only a flavour enhancer. It is also an excitatory neurotransmitter, also called an excitotoxin. Aspartame is another excitotoxin – refer to my July 2007 newsletter ‘Aspartame –  Safe or Toxic?’.


An excitotoxin is a type of chemical transmitter that allows brain cells to communicate. The problem is that excitotoxins can literally excite your brain cells to death.


Aside from harming your brain, MSG has been linked to (as the cause of) a long list of symptoms including:


Nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting

Irregular heart beat, rapid pulse


Sleep disorders


Memory disturbance


Eye damage, blurred vision


Fluid retention

Muscle soreness, joint pains and swelling




Thus it is essential to know, especially if you suffer from any of the symptoms listed above, if you are ingesting MSG, and that it may be the cause of the symptom(s).


The following two lists are adapted from

  • Foods always contain MSG when these words on are the label:

Autolyzed Plant Protein (APP)

Autolyzed yeast

Calcium or sodium caseinate



Glutamic acid

Hydrolysed Plant Protein (HPP)

Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein (HVP)

Monopotassium glutamate

Monosodium glutamate


Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)

Yeast extract

Yeast food or nutrient.

  • MSG is often found in:


Barley malt




Citric acid (when processed from corn)


Corn syrup and corn syrup solids

Dough conditioners

Enriched “anything”

Enzyme modified “anything”

Fermented “anything”



Flowing agents


 “Low” or “no fat” items

Malt extract

Malt flavouring


Milk powder

Milk solids

Modified food starch

Natural chicken, beef, or pork flavouring, seasonings


Protein fortified “anything”

Protein from wheat, rice or oats

Rice syrup or brown rice syrup


Soy protein

Soy protein isolate or concentrate

Soy sauce


Vitamin enriched


Whey protein

Whey protein isolate or concentrate

Yeast nutrients.

It is obvious that MSC is much more prevalent than many people realise.

Many foods, however, come to us without labels. To illustrate the challenge that this presents, I will refer to just two common fast food outlets:

  • MSG is in the following McDonalds' items: grilled chicken fillet, hot and spicy chicken patty, grilled chicken Caesar salad, seasoned beef, sausage and sausage patty
  • MSG is in KFC fried chicken and most of their other products.

It is also worth noting that medications in gel-caps may contain MSG, as the gel-caps may contain free glutamic acid in the gelatin.

The ideal way to avoid this toxic additive is to eat fresh, unprocessed, unrefined foods. 

220-228 Sulphites 

Some additives have a range of numbers.


For example, sulphites are 220-228. These are preservatives. The best known of these is 220, sulphur dioxide. Nearly all wines have 220 on the label. It means that the preservative sulphur dioxide is in the wine.


When one of these sulphite preservatives has been added to a food, the number is on the label. All that is necessary is to know what the number means and to know that they commonly cause symptoms, ranging from headaches to asthma.


One very real problem however, is that some foods, such as dried fruit, can be sold in bulk, where there is no labelling. 220 is routinely used in the processing of the majority of dried fruits. Without this knowledge you could, for example, be suffering from headaches due to the 220 in the dried fruit, but be unable to identify the cause, and thus end up taking medication to treat the symptom, instead of simply removing the cause by stopping ingesting the 220.


220 is but one from the list of additives known to cause causing problems, as set out on pages 132-133 in ‘How to Stop Feeling So Awful’.

150, Colorant Caramel (E150a, E150b, E150c, E150d) 

Caramel is discussed here in detail, to illustrate the complexity of knowledge and facts hidden behind a simple number on a label and how an apparently safe additive may cause problems.


Unlike 220, the additive 150 is not listed as one which causes problems and hence it would appear to be safe.


But how ‘safe’ is it?


According to recent information from the Ministries of Health of the United States, France, UK, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Russia and Italy, 150 is listed as ‘suspicious’ under the heading ‘Side Effects’ in their respective publications. They recommend that: “it is extremely wise to avoid eating food with harmful food additives”.


‘The Chemical Maze’ lists the ‘potential Health Effects” of 150, E150a, E150b, E150c and E150d as “hyperactivity; gastrointestinal symptoms; kidney, liver and caecum enlargement in rats”.


My interest in food additive 150 was prompted by recognising that it could be responsible for symptoms. In several patients, it was suspect in causing the Irritable Bowel syndrome (IBS). Exclusion of 150 from the diet led to resolution of the symptoms of IBS.


To make the diagnosis of the cause/effect link of 150 to IBS, and hence to know the cure (exclude the cause), is only straight forward when the additive 150 is listed on the label. But, alas, it is far from straight forward, as many foods containing 150 do not have a label, eg a loaf of bread.


At the outset, it is fair to say that symptoms caused by the colorant caramel, 150, are rare, especially in view of the vast amounts of it used in such a variety of products. However, until a product is labelled ‘suspicious’, one does not think of it as the possible cause of symptoms. Once alerted, we can then think of it, and suspect it as a reason for symptoms of, for example, IBS. In the website, the word ‘suspicious’ is printed in red – whereas the document, for the most part, is printed in black. The print colour red in the website is used to highlight such words as ‘suspicious’ and ‘very dangerous’.


The following is a summary of 150, caramel: what it is, where it is used, and the widespread nature of this usage.


Caramel is a colorant. It gives the range of colours from the palest yellows to the deepest browns. Colour has always played a vital role in food selection and acceptance. Colorants are added to foods

  • to make up for colour that may be lost during processing
  • to give colour to products that are colourless by themselves but can be made more appealing to consumers when colour is added
  • to allow consumers to identify what taste to expect from a product
  • to protect sensitive flavours from light (like keeping certain products in brown glass containers).

Colorants added to foods must also be proven to be safe and stable, as well as legally permitted and effective in a particular application.


Caramel accounts for more than 80% (by weight) of all colorants added to foods we eat and drink. Annual global consumption exceeds 200,000 tons. (Cereal Foods World, vol 48, no 2, 2003, pages 64-69, ‘Overview of Caramel Colors’).


There are two types of caramelisation reactions in food products:

·        enzymatic browning, which is seen when damaged or cut fruit darkens at the exposed surface

·        non-enzymatic browning, which occurs when food products such as coffee beans, meats, breads or sugars are heated.


A desired brown colour formation is generally associated with non-enzymatic browning, which occurs in several ways. Two of the most important are

  • the Maillard-reaction, in which sugars, aldehydes and ketones react with naturally occurring nitrogen-containing compounds, such as amines and proteins, to form brown pigments known as melanins.
  • caramelisation reactions, in which sugars are heated in the absence of nitrogen containing compounds.

During a caramelisation reaction, the sugars initially undergo dehydration, and then condensation or polymerization into complex molecules of varying molecular weights. Lightly coloured, pleasant-tasting caramel flavours are produced during the initial stages. Then, as the reaction continues, more high molecular colour bodies, darker in colour, are produced, and the flavour characteristics become more bitter. In this way, colour and flavour are intertwined. For example, the wide spectrum of taste in coffees is the result of the type of roasting the beans are put through, and this roasting also gives the dark colour of the coffee beans, the ground coffee and the resulting brew.


Caramel colour first gained commercial importance as an additive in brewery products (for example stout, dark beers and ales) and as a colorant in brandy. The first published technical work was in 1858, by French chemist M.A. Gelis. Details of his work and the present (chemical) knowledge can be found in the article mentioned above.


There are four distinct types of caramel colour. On the label of a product, generally only ‘caramel’ or 150 is required for this colorant. In some lists of E-numbers, four E150 numbers are given. The following is extracted from web-reference

  • E150a. Plain caramel. Caramel Colour I. It is also known as spirit caramel
  • E150b. Caustic sulphite caramel. Caramel Colour II
  • E150c. Ammonia caramel. Caramel Colour III. It is also known as beer caramel, bakers’ caramel and confectioners’ caramel
  • E150d. Sulphite-ammonia caramel. Caramel Colour IV. It is also called soft drink caramel.

Each type of caramel colour has specific functional properties that ensure compatibility with a product, and eliminate undesirable effects such as haze, flocculation and separation.

·        ammonium and sulphite compounds cannot be used as reactants for Class I caramel colours

·        sulphite compounds must be used, and ammonium compounds cannot be used, as reactants for Class 11

·        ammonium compounds must be used, and sulphite compounds cannot be used, in Class III

·        both sulphite and ammonium compounds must be used in Class IV caramel colours.


All very complex!


Details of Caramel Colour classification, labelling (USA and  Europe E-numbers), safety, methodology to determine colour, stability and nutritional aspects are presented in detail in the article ‘Overview of Caramel Colours” mentioned above.


The following describes many of the applications and uses of the colorant caramel.

  • Baked Goods and Mixes

Bakers have been using caramel colour to enhance the colour and appeal of baked goods for decades. It helps to reduce batch-to-batch colour variations. It is much darker than alternatives such as malt syrup extract and molasses and is often used for this reason. The presentation of the caramel-liquid or dry powder, and how it is used, are not relevant to this presentation. Suffice to comment that powdered caramel allows mix manufacturers to standardize the colour of baking mixes. Bread, cake and muffin mixes frequently contain caramel colour to enhance the visual appeal of the final product.


Powdered caramel replaces several synthetic colorants once used to replace cocoa. Caramel colour is 2 to 6 times darker than most cocoa powders in baking systems. If the purpose of adding extra cocoa powder is to darken the product (as opposed to adding flavour) then using caramel colour is a cost-effective way to reduce the amount of cocoa required.

  • Breakfast Cereals and Snack Foods.

Compared to other natural colorants, caramel does not deteriorate under the high temperatures and pressures of extrusion processes. Typically, Class I, III or IV caramel colour is used in these types of applications.


More than 50 different breakfast cereal products in USA list caramel in their ingredient labels. Snack and confectionary manufacturers use powdered caramel colour to standardise the colour of spice mixes and other seasoning blends. Manufacturers add caramel colour (either powdered or liquid form) in water-soluble, extruded products to boost adhesion in rice cakes, granola and energy bars.

  • Soft Drinks

In colouring a product with caramel, the particles of the caramel colour must have the same charge as the colloidal particles of the product to be coloured. If a caramel colour is put into a colloidal solution with opposite-charged particles, the particles will attract one another, form larger insoluble particles, and settle out. Soft drinks contain negatively charged colloidal particles, and therefore, a negative caramel colour should always be used.  

Soft drinks account for the largest portion of caramel colour usage in the world. It is the colour of all the colas, including Coca-Cola. As mentioned above, there are four different types of caramel colour, for different purposes. For example, one type is commonly used in such soft drinks as root beer, where it contributes to the formation of a foamy head and an attractive red hue.


Caramel colour, in carbonated beverage concentrates, serves as an emulsifier to impede the separation of flavour oils.


Getting the right caramel colour for the right food requires competent scientific over-sight.

  • Alcoholic Beverages.

Caramel colours are in beers, whiskeys, wines, rums and liqueurs. The caramel colours most commonly used are ones which are stable in 120-140 proof alcohol. 

Dark glass bottles are preferred for alcoholic beverages since colour fading may occur when caramel coloured alcoholic beverages are bottled in clear glass, especially in direct sunlight.

  • Combinations.

  Caramel colours can be combined with other colorants. For example:

Ø      In chocolate milk, caramel colours can create an almost muddy appearance. This can be countered by adding a small amount of FD&C Red #40, which imparts a “Dutch” chocolate shade. Adding a small amount of certified blue and yellow colorants produces more of a brown chocolate shade.

Ø      Yellow spirit-type caramel colours (E150a), combine well with FD&C Blue #1 to create a variety of greens, which are used, for example, in decorative sugars.

  • Other Products 

Caramel colour is also found in soy source, sausage casings/skins, cider and distilled vinegars, canned meat, table syrups, pharmaceutical preparations and meat analogs based on vegetable proteins, such as HVP (Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein).


Note that the above is a discussion of caramel, the food additive 150. This is not caramel, the soft, chewy, caramel-flavoured sweet made by boiling together milk, sugar, butter, oil, syrup, vanilla essence, water and glucose syrup. Milk is a vital ingredient in Caramels, giving them a creamy texture. The colour and flavour of caramels, the sweet, are not due to caramelisation but to the Maillard-reaction, which occurs between an amino (ammonium-containing) acid and a reducing sugar. Flavoured caramels are increasingly popular. For example, vanilla caramel or rum butter caramel.


Food additives are with us to stay.


There are a large number of food additives in use, and there are additives in virtually all processed and refined foods.


The examples above have been presented to illustrate the complexities involved in knowing exactly what additives are present in foods, the extreme widespread use of additives, and the questionable safety of additives.

It is up to you to take control of your health. You need to take responsibility for ALL the food you eat. 

You are best off choosing fresh, unprocessed food, without any additives. Such an eating plan must also follow the important principle of 75-80% of alkaline foods and 20-25% only to be acid foods. This is described in detail in my September 2005 newsletter ‘Acid Alkaline Balance’.


Copyright 2007: The Huntly Centre.





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