Food additives are substances which are added to food in order to preserve the flavour OR to enhance the taste or appearance.
Some additives have existed for centuries. They are:
1. Preserving food by pickling with vinegar (pickled cucumbers)
2. Preserving food by salting with salt (bacon)
3. Preserving sweets with sweeteners
4. Preserving wine by using sulfur dioxide
When food processing boomed in the second half of the 20th century, many, many, many more additives were introduced. And many were artificial additives.
In order to regulate these additives and to keep the consumers informed on what they are, each additive is assigned a unique number. They are termed as the 'E Numbers'. Today, this method of coding the additives is internationally adopted, accepted and practiced.
The thing about these 'E Numbers' is that not all additives are approved. And in some countries, they do not carry the letter E. They only carry the numbers. An example would be additive 260 and not E260.
Though the United States Food and Drug Administration approve of the usage of these additives, they are listed as 'Generally recognized as safe' or 'GRAS'.