What are Food Ingredients?


A food ingredient is any substance that is added to a food to achieve a desired effect. The term “food ingredient” includes food additives, which are substances added to foods for specific technical and/or functional purposes during processing, storage or packaging.

There are two types of food additives—direct and indirect. Direct food additives are used in foods to impart specific technological or functional qualities. For example, stabilizers are used to help prevent separation of nutrients in fortified milk products, while phosphates are used as a leavening agent in baked goods. Indirect additives are not intentionally added to food, but may be present in trace amounts as a result of processing, packaging, shipping or storage.

Both direct and indirect food additives are controlled by national regulatory authorities, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Any food ingredient must be proven safe to be used in foods.


Food ingredients provide convenience and allow food makers to produce a wide variety of foods that are safe, appetizing, uniform, nutritious and tasty. They are used in very small quantities, but contribute significantly to our vast and varied food supply—ensuring that the foods we love look, taste and feel the way we have come to expect.

Food ingredients are used for a variety of reasons:

To support nutrition delivery

To maintain product quality and freshness

To prevent spoilage during transport, storage and sale

To make foods more appealing and ensure that familiar foods have consistent qualities

To extend shelf-life and prevent food waste

To make some foods more affordable

To aid in the processing and preparation of foods