Diet · Food · Food for Life · Health · Prevention · Vegan · Vegan Food · Vegetarian · Vegetarian Food

E Numbers and Food Additives

I’ve been thinking a lot about E Numbers lately and how abundantly present they are. I am not an advocate of artificial produce and tend to eat a very simple diet of whole, natural foods, but even so, I find myself consuming these somewhat nameless, faceless ingredients and although the majority aren’t harmful or animal derived, I still feel uncomfortable and uneasy in my lack of knowledge. I turned to Google to set my mind and stomach at ease and I thought I would share my findings with you.

What is an E Number?

The E Number that you see on food labels is a number assigned to food additives which have been checked and are ‘safe’ to use in the European Union. The numbers refer to: colours, flavouring agents, preservatives, anti-oxidants, sweeteners, gelling agents and emulsifiers. Even though E Numbers are still very common, a lot of manufacturers are moving away from listing the ingredient as a number, apparently consumers are happier buying foods stating long, unpronounceable words, Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone for example, rather than E Numbers. This is due to the amount of negative press E Numbers get. 

Is the ‘Negative Press’ Justified?

While researching this blog post I have read a lot of info on E Numbers. Most of it is conflicting as I’m sure you can imagine. From what I can gather, not all E Numbers are bad for you, not all E Numbers are good for you, but essentially they won’t turn your skin green and make your nipples bleed! There are several E Numbers that are derived from natural substances, including E300 which is vitamin C, E101 is vitamin B2 and E160(c) is paprika. However on the other hand a lot of E Numbers have been known to cause headaches, rashes, allergic reactions, digestive upsets and hyperactivity. These include E150, E160(b), E212, E220, E319 and many, many, more.

Are E Numbers Veggie Friendly?

As a plant based eater there are several E Numbers you should always avoid and over the years I have found almost all veggies are aware of these. For example E120 is cochineal, E441 is gelatine and E542 is animal bone. While Googling this post, I came across something that I haven’t heard of before. And it’s something pretty gross. L-cysteine.

What is L-cysteine?

L-cysteine is used as an additive in around 5% of bread and other bakery products, it helps to prolong the shelf life and adds whiteness to the flour. Almost solely used in white breads, it is not used in wholemeal bread or other wholemeal bakery products. It is produced commercially from animal and human hair (and duck feathers). When produced from animal hair it is almost certain that all L-cysteine is taken from slaughtered animals. When human hair is used it is often sourced from China.

But there’s more… The hair is dissolved in acid and the L-cysteine is isolated through a chemical process, it’s then packaged and shipped off to commercial bakeries.

I don’t know about you, but I have a real problem with this. I was hoping that by doing this research and educating mysef on E Numbers and additives it would put my mind at rest but this has thrown me a little. There isn’t very much info online regarding L-cysteine, which makes me wonder how common it really is, but I would definitely like to know more about it.

Further Information

If you would like to no more about E Numbers and what goes in to your food I suggest you check out

I also found this article from the BBC to be quite interesting

For more info on L-cysteine I suggest checking out the below sites, but they are all pretty light on detail

Thanks for reading, if you have any comments, please leave them below. For more info on a plant based diet please check out Without_Cruelty on Instagram βœŒβ€

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