About two dozen chemicals are used as food additives or food preservatives to prevent spoilage. (If the mere mention of chemicals or food additives makes the hair on the back of your neck rise, chill out with Chapter 22.) Here are the most common chemical preservatives:
- Acidifiers: Most microbes don't thrive in highly acidic settings, so a chemical that makes a food more acidic prevents spoilage. Wine and vinegar are acidifying chemicals, and so are citric acid, the natural preservative in citrus fruits, and lactic acid, the natural acid in yogurt.
- Mold inhibitors: Sodium benzoate, sodium propionate, and calcium propionate slow (but do not entirely stop) the growth of mold on bread. Sodium benzoate also is used to prevent the growth of molds in cheese, margarine, and syrups.
- Bacteria-busters: Salt is hydrophilic (hydro = water; phil = loving). When you cover fresh meat with salt, the salt draws water up and out of the meat — and up and out of the cells of bacteria living on the meat. Presto: The bacteria die; the meat dries. And you get to eat corned beef (which gets its name from the fact that large grains of salt were once called "corns").
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