Sources of Food Ingredients: Monocalcium Phosphate

What is Monocalcium Phosphate? How is it made?

phosphatesOne of many substances added to food, monocalcium phosphate is derived from minerals found in nature ‑ minerals that are vital to our health and well-being.  Monocalcium phosphate has been used in food production for decades and is made by reacting a source of calcium (usually calcium hydroxide) with phosphoric acid.

  • Calcium hydroxide, or limewater, is made by mixing calcium oxide with water.
  • Food-grade phosphoric acid is made from phosphate rocks, which are mined, refined and purified.  Companies that make phosphoric acid in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere follow strict procedures to ensure purity.

Calcium + Phosphorus = A Strong Combination

While most of us are familiar with calcium, some may not be as familiar with phosphorus.  Phosphorus, which comes from phosphate rock, is an essential nutrient required for growth, maintenance and repair of body tissues.  Like calcium, phosphorus is used by our bodies to help make DNA, strengthen cells and form bone and teeth.  (See WebMD “Bones Need Both Calcium and Phosphorus”).

Functionality: Monocalcium Phosphates Helps Foods Rise to the Occasion

Many people are familiar with the baking powder most of us keep in our kitchens.  Monocalcium phosphate is one of the common ingredients found in baking powder and as it plays a critical role in ensuring the baked goods we enjoy rise when baked.

In baked goods, monocalcium phosphate reacts with baking soda to produces carbon dioxide which helps the dough rise.  The release of carbon dioxide is why you can see air bubbles in many baked goods and is what helps make your favorite bakery treat light, fluffy and delicious.

One of the biggest challenges when making some baked goods is ensuring that the product rises at the right time, which may require releasing carbon dioxide in a very controlled manner. Too early and the muffin might be too dense. Too late and the muffin might crumble.   Manufacturers add monocalcium phosphate to ensure the right amount of carbon dioxide is released at just the right moment for the best results.

The amount of leavening (or rise) needed to make the broad array of baked goods we enjoy varies.  Monocalcium phosphate is particularly useful because it can be used in small amounts in combination with other leavening agents to provide the leavening needed for many different types of dough and baked products.  The next time you take a bite of birthday cake or enjoy a fluffy breakfast pastry, chances are that monocalcium phosphate was responsible for the light, airy texture of those treats.

Keeping Food Safe

Regulatory bodies around the world, including those in the United States, Europe, Asia and South America, have reviewed food grade monocalcium phosphate and have determined that monocalcium phosphate is safe for use in food.  After a review in the 1970s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that monocalcium phosphate was generally recognized as safe or GRAS.  To be determined GRAS, ingredients like monocalcium phosphate must meet the highest bar of safety in the U.S.—general recognition by qualified experts that it is safe for use in food.  Over the decades, monocalcium phosphate has continued to be found safe in the U.S. and around the world for use in foods where it provides a range of important functions in many products we all enjoy.

It’s on the Label

Like all other food additives, GRAS substances and ingredients added to food, monocalcium phosphate must always be listed on the food label if it is used in a food.  Monocalcium phosphate might also be identified on food labels as calcium dihydrogen phosphate, which is a synonym for monocalcium phosphate.  Since this ingredient is generally used at very low levels, with just enough to achieve the intended leavening effect, you may have to look towards the end of the ingredient list to find it in the product.

About the role of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
The U.S. FDA and other government agencies will take action against any company that does not disclose that an additive is in its products and may order that the food be removed from store shelves.  Consumers do not have to fear that any ingredient is being secretly added to foods.

Making Food Better Every Day

Monocalcium phosphate is just another example of a safe, ingredient derived from natural sources that helps make the foods we enjoy every day better by producing a better food product.  This in turn, helps reduce food waste that can result from unappealing foods.  As we all seek to eat a balanced, nutrient rich diet, reduce food waste, and occasionally indulge in a sweet treat, monocalcium phosphate continues to be a safe and useful ingredient that makes our foods better.