No major risk posed by food flavourings

25.1.2018 12:15

While the risk posed to consumers by flavouring substances used in foodstuffs is generally considered low, it is advisable to watch the intake of certain flavourings. Some 2,500 chemically specified flavouring substances are approved for use by the EU. Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira has prepared a report on food flavourings. Aside from flavouring substances, the report also addresses flavourings that may not be added to foodstuffs as such but that may end up in food, for example with spices. Some of these substances may have adverse effects on human.

A flavouring substance is a chemical compound that is added to food to impart taste or odour.

Often this effect is achieved at low concentrations. A flavouring substance added to food may be nature-derived or artificial. Among EU-approved flavouring substances are for instance ammonium chloride, glycyrrhizic acid, caffeine and vanillin.

"Many flavouring substances occur naturally in foodstuffs. But that's no guarantee that it would be safe for humans. However, the significance of the intake of added flavouring substance is considered low in terms of the overall risk, if the intake of added flavouring substance is low relative to natural intake from food", says Senior Researcher Kimmo Suominen, PhD of Evira's Risk Assessment Research Unit.

Smoke flavourings are added to foodstuffs to impart a smoke flavour. It is assumed that replacing traditional smoking by smoke flavourings will reduce consumer exposure to carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons known as PAH compounds.

Hard to assess intake

"It's difficult to determine the intake level of flavouring substances because the current methods involve a number of uncertainties. Moreover, the data on the amounts of flavouring substances used in food and the levels of concentration are incomplete", Suominen says.

Abundant use of some flavouring substances may have adverse effects to human. For example, liquorice and salty liquorice sweets and some herbal teas contain glycyrrhizic acid obtained from liquorice root. Expectant mothers are advised to avoid large use of liquorice and salty liquorice sweets because excessive intake of glycyrrhizic acid during pregnancy is linked to shorter duration of gestation, behavioural disorders and delays in the cognitive development of children. A high intake of glycyrrhizic acid may also lead to hypertension.

Evira's recent report on food flavourings also addresses substances that may not be added to foodstuffs as such but that end up in food with natural ingredients such as spices. Some may have adverse effects on human. One such substance is coumarin contained in cinnamon whose safety was assessed by Evira during 2007 - 2013.

Overview of food flavourings (description in English)

For more information, please contact:
Senior Researcher Kimmo Suominen, tel. +358 (0)40 827 9715


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