Q. What do 'no preservatives, no artificial colours and no artificial flavours' really mean?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Monday, 30 September 2013.
Tagged: additives, allergies, food colours, food labels, food safety, fresh food, FSANZ

Q. What do 'no preservatives, no artificial colours and no artificial flavours'  really mean?

[THE QUESTION IN FULL]

Q. Why do some products state 'no preservatives, no artificial colours and no artificial flavours' but the list of ingredients then lists flavour enhancers (621, 627, 631) flavours (270, 262) and colours (160a)?

A. That's because those flavours and colours are NATURAL rather than synthetic with no counterpart in nature (which we call artificial). Many flavours are extracted from herbs or spices so are close to their natural state and can be termed ‘natural'.

Here are explanations of those natural flavours and colours you quoted:

  • One common flavour (code number 270) is lactic acid which is a natural compound found in milk.
  • Another flavour (262) is sodium acetate which is used to impart a tart taste. It's derived from the acetic acid found naturally in vinegar.
  • Colour (160a) is beta-carotene, which is the yellow-orange colour in carrots, pumpkin and mango. It is converted into vitamin A once in the body. You'll spot it in soups, meal bases and dips.

On the other hand, flavour enhancers have no flavour of their own - but bring out the flavour of other ingredients. No 621 is MSG (mono-sodium glutamate), a well-known additive in gravies, noodles, sauces and Asian take-aways (MSG however, does occur naturally in many foods including mushrooms, cheese, tomatoes and seaweed). Additive No's 627 (disodium 5'-guanylate) and 631 (disodium 5'-inosinate) are similar. Many parents try to avoid these but there's no strong evidence against them, they just sound ‘suspicious'.

If you want a complete list of all additives and their code numbers, you can download the official government list for Australia and New Zealand from FSANZ.

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby knows nutrition! She is an accredited nutritionist, food commentator, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Catherine Saxelby's Food and Nutrition Companion answers all those tricky questions on healthy eating, diets and supplements. It draws together a lifetime of advice and gives you all you need to know to eat right! It's a complete A to Z. A handy desk go-to reference.