Glossary of Preservatives

glossary of preservatives


Did you know most of the food products in kitchens across the country have some of preservative in them.

They are used to pro-long the quality and life-span of a product, preserving its natural characteristics and appearance by acting as an anti-microbial agent which preventing the growth of bacteria and minimising discolouration.

It’s an ancient process we have used for centuries to avoid food spoilage and one that is still used today. We also now have scientific technological advancements that allow for a more modern and efficient process.

There are three main reasons behind food preservation. The first being to help retain the natural characteristics and nutrients of food. Processes include freezing, freeze-drying. Smoking, salting and pickling. These are the more natural and traditional ways to preserve products, it essentially works by reducing the rate in which bacteria grows.

Secondly consumers consciously or sub-consciously judge food on its appearance on the shelves. Food technologists use tactics to prolong and improve the products appearance, to make sure they do not spoil on their journey from production to stores.

The third reason for food preservation is to increase the shelf life of food for storage. This prevents spoilage and safeguards product quality for consumers making it suitable for consumption. Natural spoilage can occur from natural physical, chemical, enzymic and microbiological reactions.

Advancements in technology mean we now have a selection of high quality solutions that companies can utilise for preservation.

The food standards agency explains that food additives are grouped by what they do. The additives that you are most likely to come across are:

  • Antioxidants (stop food becoming rancid or changing colour by reducing the chance of fats combining with oxygen)
  • Colours
  • Emulsifiers, stabilisers, gelling agents and thickeners (help to mix or thicken ingredients)
  • Flavour enhancers (used to bring out the flavour of foods)
  • Preservatives (used to keep food safer for longer)
  • Sweeteners (intense sweeteners are many times sweeter than sugar whereas bulk sweeteners have a similar sweetness to sugar)

In this series, we will look at the different preservative on the market, delve into what they are commonly used for and how they impact the food and beverage market.

Dimethyl Carbonate

Dimethyl Carbonate Formula

In appearance Dimethyl Carbonate is a clear colourless liquid, it has a sweet taste with a light aroma.

In food and drink, dimethyl carbonate is used as a beverage preservative, predominantly in the preservation of wine as it inactivates yeasts that causes decomposition.

It is also used as a stabilising agent in non-alcoholic drinks such as isotonic sports drinks, flavoured water, carbonated and non-carbonated juices.

Dimethyl Carbonate Applications

Dimethyl carbonate applications

Potassium Metabisulphate

Potassium Metabisulphate Formiula

Potassium Metabisulphate is a food preservative which conserves the natural colour of food and protects food against bacteria. It’s a white crystalline powder with a pungent sulphur odour.

The winemaking industry uses Potassium Metabisulphate as an additive for the bottling process. When added to wine, a sulphur dioxide gas forms, which destroys microorganisms in wine and prevents moulds and bacteria from growing inside the bottle.

Potassium Metabisulphate is also sometimes used in the brewing industry to inhibit the growth of wild bacteria and fungi.

It is used to neutralise chloramine that has been added to tap water at the source as a disinfectant and is used both by homebrewers and commercial brewers alike.

Potassium Metabisulphate Applications

Potassium Metabisulphate Applications

Potassium Sorbate

Potassium Sorbate Formula

Potassium Sorbate is used as a preservative in several foods since its anti-microbial properties stop the growth of harmful bacteria and moulds. Potassium Sorbate in sold form holds the appearance of white crystals.

The use of potassium sorbate increases the shelf life of foods, so many dietary supplements also include it. It is also used as a preservative for dehydrated foods like jerky and dried fruit.

It is commonly used in wine production because it stops the yeast from continuing to ferment in the bottles.

Potassium Sorbate is used in dairy products, margarines and mayonnaise. These products are processed using potassium sorbate to extend their shelf life by inhibiting the growth of certain moulds, yeast and bacteria.

Potassium Sorbate Applications


Sodium Benzoate

Sodium Benzoate Formula

Sodium Benzoate is the sodium salt of benzoic acid. It is a white or colourless crystalline powder with a sweetish astringent taste.

There are many uses for Sodium benzoate in food as a common type of preservative. It preserves food by entering the individual cells in the food and balances its pH level, increasing the overall acidity of the food. The result is an environment that inhibits the growth of fungi. Sodium benzoate food additive has the E number E211.

Sodium benzoate is heavily used in the soft drink industry due to the demand of high-fructose corn syrup in carbonated drinks. It increases the acidity of soft drinks, which also increases the intensity of flavour you get from the high-fructose corn syrup.

Sodium benzoate is also added as a flavour enhancer to acidic foods such as vinegars, dressing, fruit juices, sauces, and pickles.

Sodium Benzoate Applications

 Sodium Benzoate Applications

Sodium Metabisulphite

Sodium Metabisulphite Formula

Sodium Metabisulphate preserves food. In appearance, it is a white to yellow crystalline powder.

There are many uses for Sodium Metabisulphite in the food and drink industry. It is used to preserve dried foods, like raisins and apples, as well as fruit juice concentrates.

Its commonly used in home brewing and winemaking as a steriliser and antioxidant and can be used to remove choramine from drinking water.

Sodium Metabisulphite Applications

Sodium Metabisulphite applications


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