All you need to know about Anticaking agents

All you need to know about Anticaking agents

Do you ever wonder how you get your milk powder, baking powder, cake mixes, salt, spices, coffee powder, and health drink powder dry and in the powder form that you would want it in? And all this despite the humid weather, damp storage conditions and sometimes prolonged storage on the shelves of the departmental stores. The solution is anticaking agents.

What are anticaking agents?

Anticaking agents are food additives that are added to finely powdered or granulated food powders to prevent ‘caking’ or lumping of the products. Lumping can cause issues in terms of packing, transporting, storing and consuming the product. It can further reduce the flowability of the product as in the case of coffee vending machines where lumping or powder sticking together can lead to vending machines not working properly. Or maybe think of salt shakers, where without anticaking agents the salt particles will stick together inhibiting the salt from flowing freely. [1] [2]

Anticaking agents are used in a plethora of food products such as cake mixes, icing sugar, baking powder, milk powder, instant soup powder, coffee, drinking chocolate, cocoa powder and Happy Ratio All-In-One nutrition powders. The purpose remains the same - to prevent the formation of lumps. 

Some examples of anticaking agents are sodium aluminosilicate, calcium silicate, sodium dioxide, powdered cellulose, magnesium stearate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium ferrocyanide, potassium ferrocyanide, tricalcium phosphate and yellow prussiate of soda [2]. Even rice makes a naturally occurring anticaking agent due to its capacity to absorb moisture. If your mobile phone ever falls in the water and refuses to charge, just put it in rice for a few hours and see how it absorbs all the moisture from where the water entered.

Why are anticaking agents used?

As mentioned earlier, anticaking agents are used to keep the particles from binding together or prevent ‘caking’ and thereby improve the flowability of the powders. The lumping of the powder happens due to moisture or the interactions between particles and fat content. The caking process happens in three stages -  moisture sorption, liquid bridge and crystal bridge. Sorption refers to the process of adsorption and absorption together. Adsorption is the even distribution of the adsorbate (the substance that gets adsorbed) only on the surface of the adsorbent (the material that adsorbs adsorbate). Whereas, absorption is the even distribution of the absorbate (the substance that gets absorbed) throughout the bulk of the absorbent (the material that absorbs the absorbate). Now, when these powders absorb moisture, they form a liquid bridge that can create a crystal bridge. This crystal bridge is responsible for lumping. [3] [4]

So, how can caking be prevented? While controlling environmental conditions such as temperature, pressure, and relative humidity is a great method, improving the anticaking properties of the powder or granules through the use of anticaking agents is a well-accepted solution. Anticaking agents will coat each individual particle of the powder and thus separate them from each other so that a crystal bridge cannot form to cause lumps. [3] [5]

FSSAI’s take on anticaking agents

Using an anticaking agent is a well-accepted solution which is why the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) approves its use. Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011 has laid down certain standards for anticaking agents. Anticaking agents can be used in salt, spices, soup powders and protein powders as long as it does not exceed 2% by weight of the food either singly or in a combination of the following anticaking agents [1] [6]:

  • Carbonates of calcium and magnesium
  • Phosphates of calcium and magnesium
  • Silicates of calcium, magnesium, aluminium and sodium  
  • Silicon dioxide
  • Salts of myristic, palmitic or stearic acid of ammonia, calcium, potassium or sodium

Silicon dioxide as an anticaking agent

Silicon dioxide, which is also known as INS 551, is the most widely-used anticaking agent across industries. Silicon dioxide (SiO2), or silica, is a natural compound made of silicon (S) and oxygen (O2) - two abundantly occurring materials on earth. 59% of the earth’s crust is silica and about 95% of the rocks present on earth contain silica [7]. Silica occurs naturally in the human body in the form of orthosilicic acid and is found in bones, tendons, aorta (main artery carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body), kidneys and liver [8] [9]. It can also be found in numerous plants that humans consume on a daily basis including:

  • dark, leafy green vegetables, such as spinach
  • grains and cereals, such as oats and brown rice
  • vegetables, such as beets, green beans, artichokes, asparagus and bell peppers
  • Fruits, such as banana
  • alfalfa

Silica is divided into amorphous silica and crystalline silica [10]. The forms of synthetic amorphous silica used as INS 551 include fumed silica and hydrated silica (precipitated silica, hydrous silica and silica gel) [11]. Silicon dioxide has widespread applications in the food industry apart from being used as an anticaking agent such as controlling viscosity, as an anti-foaming agent, as a dough modifier, and as a means to clarify beverages. Acting as an anticaking agent INS 551 not just prevents the formation of lumps and ensures flowability, but also helps in improving the shelf life of the products. [12] 

Happy Ratio makes use of INS 551 or silicon dioxide as an anticaking agent in the Happy Ratio All-In-One nutrition supplements to prevent the powdered form of all 39 essential nutrients from sticking together and forming a lump. FSSAI approves the use of silica as a food additive as long as it does not exceed 2% of the weight of the food. 

Is silicon dioxide safe?

Concerns arise when people realise that they are consuming food additives along with the various products starting from salt and spice to health drinks and nutritional supplement powders. The same is the case with silicon dioxide. Although it is a naturally occurring compound, particularly found in a plethora of fruits and vegetables, the chemical composition raises eyebrows because people are not comfortable with chemicals. Much of this fear also arises because of cases of inhalation of silicon dust or prolonged exposure to silicon dust for people who work in mining, quarrying, construction and steel industries. However, it is important to note that there are different grades of silica and the one used in the food industry is not the same as those in the aforementioned industries. The fibrous crystalline silica is the one that poses a health hazard as it causes asbestosis and leads to impairment of lung function and increases cancer risk. What the food industry uses has to go through a screening process for FSSAI approval. Besides, the amount of silica that is consumed by our body does not get accumulated in our bodies. It gets flushed out with urine in the form of silicic acid - a normal constituent of urine. [13] [14]

The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) has estimated that a dietary intake of 20 - 50 mg silicon per day, which is equivalent to 0.3-0.8 mg per kg body weight per day for a 60 kg person, is unlikely to cause any adverse effects. Furthermore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also recognized silica as a safe food additive and classifies it as a “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS) agent. [15] [16]

Apart from just being safe, silicon has been suggested to help in the following [13]

  • growth of hair, nails, and skin
  • collagen synthesis
  • bone mineralization and bone health 
  • reduces metal accumulation in Alzheimer's disease
  • maintains immune system health
  • reduces the risk for atherosclerosis

Final thoughts

The use of silicon dioxide is not limited to anticaking agents. Synthetic amorphous silica finds its use in the manufacture of products like paints, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. While being used as a food additive, silicon dioxide or INS 551 has to be used within the criteria suggested by FSSAI, without which the final food product will not receive FSSAI approval. Similar guidelines also exist in Europe and the United States. As long as that is the case, there is no health threat that one needs to worry about. 

















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