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Benzoic acid (E 210): use & risks

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 280 views

Benzoic acid is a preservative that, among other things, makes food and cosmetics more durable. It is listed under the European approval number E 210. Here’s what you need to know about benzoic acid, its uses, and potential health effects.

What is benzoic acid?

Benzoic acid occurs naturally in various plants, especially in cranberries, but also in raspberries , plums, cinnamon and cloves. In addition, it can also be found in dairy products such as yoghurt or cheese due to bacterial fermentation. It has been known in its natural form since the 16th century.

For use as a preservative in the manufacturing industry, however, benzoic acid is usually produced synthetically. E 210 is a colorless substance that often forms lamellar or needle-shaped crystals.

E 210 was first produced artificially in 1860 using coal tar. In the meantime, the production takes place via a complicated chemical process, in which, however, no genetically modified organisms are used.

Benzoic acid is an aromatic carboxylic acid that is hardly soluble in cold water and slightly more soluble in warm water. Compounds like these are also called aromatics. The name of this class of substances comes from the characteristic smell of the substances.

Substances with a similar structure (derivatives) include:

  • Sodium benzoate , a salt used as a food preservative.
  • Benzyl benzoate , an ester that acts as an acaricide (pesticide) against mites and ticks.
  • Benzoyl peroxide , which is used to bleach flour and to make plastic.

Sodium carbonate and benzyl benzoate are referred to as benzoates.

Where is benzoic acid used?

Benzoic acid has an antifungal and antibacterial effect, which is why it is used as a preservative in cosmetics (perfume), tobacco products and food. They are often combined with sorbic acid , which also prevents mold from forming.

The antibacterial effect of E 210 can be enhanced by sodium chloride, sulphites and acetates. The properties of benzoic acid develop best in an acidic environment, where it inhibits the growth of yeast and bacteria.

Benzoic acid may only be used for certain foods and only in a precisely defined quantity. Its use is prohibited for organic food. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the maximum daily amount that an adult should take in (ADI value) is five milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

Among other things, E 210 is often found in these foods:

  • pickled fruits and vegetables
  • candied or glazed fruit
  • Marmalade, Jam, Jelly
  • Olive
  • sauces, ketchup, mustard
  • Margarine
  • Wurst
  • canned fish

Benzoic acid – is it harmful?

Even though preservatives like benzoic acid prevent food from spoiling prematurely and thus prevent us from unknowingly ingesting mold spores or other harmful substances, be careful about how much you consume with the food.

It is true that benzoic acid and its benzoates are utilized by our organism and excreted through the kidneys. However, isolated allergic reactions can occur, particularly in people who are allergic to aspirin and/or salicylic acid. The latter is used in pharmacy as a local pain reliever. Asthmatics can also react sensitively to E 210.

Studies suggest that benzoic acid , when taken in high doses over a long period of time, can cause indigestion, cramps, and nervous system impairment. So: Don’t overdo it and read the list of ingredients carefully.

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