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The use of stabilisers and thickeners has been an enormous growth area in the processed food industry over the last 20 years. They"re used primarily to psychologically-enhance the appearance of food rather than affect its taste properties.

Because of the increasing resistance of the public to chemical additives, they tend to be natural substances, whenever possible. The leading one is gum arabic, which comes from the stem and branches of acacia trees. Next is gum tragacanth. Third is guar gum from the ground-up seeds of a leguminous plant, Cyamopsis tetragonoloba (the gum is also used as a sizing agent in the paper and textile industries. Fourth and fifth in order of use are Sodium Carboxymethylcellulose and gelatine.

Sixth is carrageenin, extracted from the North Atlantic seaweed called Irish Moss, or Carrageen, after a town in southeast Ireland (though more than 80% now comes from Canada"s Maritime region, especially from Prince Edward Island). Carrageenin is also an emulsifier (used in beer and pie fillings), and retards the settling of particles, as in liquid diet foods, so we don"t have to "shake well before using".

Three other stabilisers used are carob bean gum, agar-agar and methylcellulose

To increase the firmness of canned tomatoes, sliced apples and canned potatoes, packers add calcium chloride, calcium citrate and mono-and dicalcium phosphate. The salts produce a calcium pectate gel in some foods that keeps the food tissues from collapsing.

To keep baking powder from caking, calcium siicate is used. It"s also used (along with magnesium silicate, tricalcium phosphate, sodium aluminosilicate, silica gel and the like) to keep table salt free-pouring.

Some foods face an opposite problem; moisture retention. To keep shredded coconut and sweets from drying out, food and confectionery companies use sorbitol. Glycerol is added to marshmallows, propylene glycol to sweets.

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