What Do Food Additives Look Like?

We all know packaged foods that roll off the assembly line are loaded with many mysterious additives.

But have you ever wondered what these factory formulations actually look like and exactly how they’re made?

In this upcoming new book, Ingredients: A Visual Exploration of 75 Additives & 25 Food Products (to be released September 29 and available for preorder now on Amazon), macro photographer Dwight Eschliman focuses on some of most common ingredients in processed foods while science writer Steve Ettlinger probes the exact makeup of each.

Azodicarbonamide is a food additive to strengthen dough and is also used as a foaming agent to make rubber products such as yoga mats.

Azodicarbonamide is a food additive to strengthen dough and is also used as a foaming agent to make rubber products such as yoga mats. Dwight Eschliman/Regan Arts

The book provides a fascinating glimpse into the often complicated compounds that go into those bags, boxes and cans that line grocery store shelves.

It’s estimated there are more than 5,000 different food additives used in the U.S – apparently know one, including the FDA, knows for sure. (The government doesn’t regulate or approve food additives.)

And considering 70% of the average American’s diet is made up of processed foods, what exactly all those multi-syllable food additives might be up to inside our bodies would be good to know.

Artificial dyes Red No. 40 and Yellow No. 5 They start out as grey and white powders that include nitric acid and tartaric acid. Then they're mixed with petroleum byproducts, neutralized with lye, and sprayed as a mist onto hot walls to instantly dry the mixture into these brightly-colored powders. Dwight Eschliman/Regan Arts

Artificial dyes Red No. 40 and Yellow No. 5 They start out as grey and white powders that include nitric acid and tartaric acid. Then they’re mixed with petroleum byproducts, neutralized with lye, and sprayed as a mist onto hot walls to instantly dry the mixture into these brightly-colored powders. Dwight Eschliman/Regan Arts

Recent consumer demand for more “natural” foods have made many processed food conglomerates take a second look at the artificial colorings, preservatives, emulsifiers, flavor-enhancers and other ingredients they’ve routinely dumped into their packaged goods for years.

Manufacturers say food additives are perfectly safe, while many health advocates – including paleo followers – are highly skeptical of those claims.

paleo-newbie-Shellac-food-additive-932x524

Shellac is also called confectioner’s resin or candy glaze. It’s a colorant and preservative made out of the resinous excretion from the Laccifer lacca insect. It’s harvested and processed for use as a natural plastic coating for candy and other foods. Dwight Eschliman/Regan Arts

If you’d like to learn more about food additives from a new perspective, Ingredients: A Visual Exploration of 75 Additives & 25 Food Products looks like a good place to start.

All photos © Dwight Eschliman/Regan Arts

Main Photo at top of post: Chlorophyll extracted from plants with harsh solvents, and typically treated with copper to prevent oxidation.

Here’s a link if you’d like to check out the upcoming book on Amazon.com: Ingredients: A Visual Exploration of 75 Additives & 25 Food Products


Read “What Do Food Additives Look Like Before They End Up In Your Food” via Wired.com for more.