How to count on food

This week, we look at more unusual ad­di­tives and bulk­ing in­gre­di­ents, pre­fixed E, that you may find in your favourite foods – and then move on to en­zymes that can blend dif­fer­ent pro­teins to­gether, or help to peel your fruit! Fi­nally, a word on high fruct

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SOME bio­chemists might joke that it is a cry­ing shame that most peo­ple are not aware of E1105 (lysozyme) – for this en­zyme ad­di­tive is found in hu­man tears and other body flu­ids, such as saliva, am­ni­otic fluid, etc.

Lysozyme has an in­ter­est­ing his­tory, be­ing orig­i­nally iden­ti­fied by Alexan­der Flem­ing in 1922 as the rea­son why egg whites are gen­er­ally an­tibac­te­rial. It is also the first en­zyme to be de­tected which con­tains all 20 of the com­mon amino acids; the study of lysozyme led to the even­tual un­der­stand­ing of how en­zymes work in the body. In food, E1105’s pri­mary func­tion is to act as an an­timi­cro­bial preser­va­tive, par­tic­u­larly against early bac­te­rial biofilms in cheeses. If you are in­ter­ested in how and why biofilms de­velop, re­fer to

If you like gooey con­fec­tions, ooz­ing with liq­uid caramel or syrups, then you have to thank E1103 (in­ver­tase). This is an en­zyme which in­verts sugar (or su­crose) into a syrupy blend of glu­cose and fruc­tose, which oddly ac­tu­ally tastes sig­nif­i­cantly sweeter than sugar it­self – and with a pleas­antly dense, moist tex­ture. The in­verted sugar is then mixed with flavour­ings and used for your mu­cilagi­nous candy bars.

And if foods have too many calo­ries, there are ad­di­tives to moder­ate that too, such as E1200 (poly­dex­trose), a syn­thetic low-calo­rie poly­mer of glu­cose used to re­place sugar, starch and fats in cakes, con­fec­tions, desserts, ce­re­als, bev­er­ages, salad dress­ings, etc. It is classed as a sol­u­ble fi­bre and used mostly in diet foods or meals for di­a­bet­ics. E1200 is de­rived from the in­ter­ac­tion of glu­cose with two other nat­u­ral ad­di­tives, E330 (cit­ric acid) and E420 (sor­bitol) – and adding E1200 to food au­to­mat­i­cally “con­verts” low fi­bre con­tent food into high fi­bre food. How­ever, one com­monly-ob­served and prob­lem­atic side ef­fect is ex­ces­sive bowel lax­a­tion, so much so that the FDA re­quires a warn­ing on the food la­bel if any por­tion of food con­tains more than 15g of poly­dex­trose. Pos­si­bly, ac­tor Jack Ni­chol­son had con­sumed too much E1200 when he was fa­mously quoted as say­ing that one can never trust a fart.

Both E1201 (polyvinylpyrroli­done) and E1202 (polyvinylpolypyrroli­done) sound more like rocket fu­els than food ad­di­tives, but these syn­thetic com­pounds are used quite com­monly in food pro­cess­ing. E1201 is used as a sta­biliser and wa­ter-sol­u­ble dis­per­sant for other ad­di­tives, such as flavour­ings. E1202 is a cross-linked ver­sion of E1201, and is not wa­ter sol­u­ble but is ca­pa­ble of ab­sorb­ing wa­ter and swelling very rapidly – this makes it a good dis­in­te­grant (dis­per­sal agent) for med­i­ca­tion pills. E1202 is also used for fin­ing (fil­ter­ing) beers and wines, as it binds well with polyphe­nols and tan­nins, pre­cip­i­tat­ing these im­pu­ri­ties and thus clar­i­fy­ing the al­co­holic liq­uids.

De­spite its chem­i­cal name, E1203 (polyvinyl al­co­hol) is more likely to be en­coun­tered in your break­fast bowl than at your lo­cal rave club. It is one of the com­pounds used to glaze the out­side of dried fruits in muesli and other break­fast ce­re­als to pre­vent de­hy­dra­tion. Other films and glaz­ing agents re­side in the range be­tween E1204 (pul­lu­lan) and E1209 (polyvinyl al­co­hol-poly­eth­yl­ene gly­col-graft-co-poly­mer).

The next range be­tween E1404 (ox­i­dised starch) and E1452 (starch alu­minium octenyl suc­ci­nate) are all wheat or corn starch-based ad­di­tives – they are mainly used as bulk­ing agents, thick­en­ers, sta­bilis­ers and anti-cak­ing agents. The last men­tioned ad­di­tive, E1452, is also sub­ject to Euro­pean Union reg­u­la­tions for con­tam­i­na­tion by heavy met­als.

The fi­nal pair of ad­di­tives to be dis­cussed are E1520 (propan-1,2-diol or propy­lene gly­col) and E1521 (poly­eth­yl­ene gly­col). Although both are used in anti-freeze so­lu­tions, the sim­i­lar­i­ties end there. E1520 is a ma­jor com­po­nent of the liq­uids used in e-cig­a­rettes, used to pro­mote the smooth­ness of ice creams and var­i­ous dairy foods, and is also a sol­vent for med­i­ca­tions which are in­sol­u­ble in wa­ter.

On the other hand, E1521 is more used as a sur­fac­tant (anti-foam­ing agent) in foods – it is also used as a lax­a­tive and in sup­pos­i­to­ries. An­other com­mon use of E1521 is in cos­met­ics, where it is a flex­i­ble thick­ener, humec­tant, sol­vent and mois­turiser – it is of­ten la­belled as “PEG” fol­lowed by a num­ber, which in­di­cates the molec­u­lar weight. One cau­tion­ary note is that E1521 should not be

left to ox­i­dise, as it can

For­mer jour­nal­ist and Sene­gal-based blogger Vignon-Vul­lierme presents a plate of pas­tries home-made in her Dakar kitchen. — AFP

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