Calcium chloride is permitted as a food additive in the European Union for use as a sequestrant and firming agent with the E number E509. It is considered as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
is a salt composed of calcium and chloride (chemically known as CaCl2). It takes the form of a colorless liquid or whitish granules, powders and flakes. It tastes salty but is odorless. Because it melts ice by generating heat as it dissolves, calcium chloride is most commonly used for de-icing anything from your walkways to roads and vehicles. Since it is a salt, it has many other applications including water treatment, resurfacing roads, concrete, oil and gas for transportation, medicine, agricultural cultivation and yes, food.
Where does it come from? Our table salt (sodium chloride) is abundantly found in nature but though calcium chloride does occur in some minerals, it is very rare. Mostly it’s found in ocean brine and limestone but unlike with our table salt, it’s produced en mass through chemical processes, usually as a byproduct of making soda bicarbonate from brine and limestone. In other words, you can’t just go find it lying around in nature like with our everyday salt which we humans have been mining or harvesting for thousands of years.
Calcium Chloride as a Common Food Additive and Preservative
The food market for calcium chloride is widespread and growing. In food it’s an additive for use as a stabilizer, firming agent, and thickener. This means calcium chloride helps keep your foods firm rather than going soft because of food processing. The food industry has found many uses for this chemical:
- As a thickener to help form solid cheese and tofu
- As a dough-strengthening and -raising agent
- To preserves frozen food and canned fruit and vegetables
- As a meat tenderizer
- To keep your packaged foods dry, as it can absorb a lot of moisture
- If sprayed on live crops and fresh produce, it acts as a preservative by maintaining the calcium content of your fruits or vegetables. This helps maintain cellular structure and crispness, a useful trait that sees calcium chloride used in pickling
- In brewing beer
- Since it’s an electrolyte, it’s found in some sports drinks
Then there are the dubious health claims made by the industry. Food companies often use calcium chloride in place of sodium chloride (table salt) to lower the sodium content of food items. This gives consumers the illusion that the item is low in salt despite calcium chloride itself being a salt and having some similar effects as sodium chloride in the body plus unique ones but more on that later.
As you can see, calcium chloride is a useful chemical in the processed food industry and even in the food cultivation process.
Health Dangers of Calcium Chloride
Table salt (sodium chloride) is pretty safe. If you knock it over and get it on your skin, it’s harmless. Though it is an essential mineral for our health, too much in our bodies is generally recognized as a bad thing. Calcium chloride, however, isn’t something you want to handle like you would a shaker of table salt despite the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration denotes calcium chloride as generally recognized as safe (GRAS).
Remember that troubling statement by industry insiders – the one that said too much consumption of calcium chloride causes “ill effects including kidney stones, bone & joint pain, coma, and irregular heart beat” that might limit growth in the food market? Keep that in mind as you read on.
Calcium chloride clearly can cause health problems. Here are more ill-health effects.
- Because this chemical operates by releasing heat in contact with water, calcium chloride can burn your skin, eyes or other bodily tissues. Internally it can do the same thing. It can cause irritation of your digestive or respiratory tracts and may trigger asthma.
- People who handle calcium chloride have to take precautions as it can cause gastrointestinal issues if ingested, skin reactions if touched, and lung damage if inhaled.
- Calcium chloride can cause a burning pain in the stomach, nausea and vomiting if ingested, according to the International Programme on Chemical Safety, or IPCS (my emphasis added). To avoid ingestion, the IPCS recommends you do not eat, drink or smoke while working with calcium chloride. If you accidentally ingest calcium chloride, drink plenty of water and contact a physician immediately.
Many warnings regarding calcium chloride are aimed primarily at those who handle the chemical in food processing or other industries. If it’s problematic to handle, what will it do to us through our foods? That insider report by Grand View Research about health dangers limiting market growth in the food processing industry raises important questions, particularly in light of known health problems from consumption the report cites and those caused from ingesting the chemical during handling, among the other dangers and uses in medical applications not discussed in this article.
As a Livestrong.com article notes, “Although it is generally considered safe for humans to handle, some dangers exist if too much enters the body.” The problem is we don’t exactly know how much is too much and worse, we don’t know how much we’re ingesting given its widespread uses in the food industry, few of which require labeling. We only notice it when it appears on food labels and even there we don’t know its quantities.
Processed foods, where calcium chloride is widely used, make up 66% of the American diet. As industry research notes, ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat food products are a growing market segment for calcium chloride. This means calcium chloride use will only expand. Plus the industry is always looking for new applications.
In the food industry Calcium chloride is used in a wide range of food products – from cheese and tofu to beer, canned fruits and vegetables and sports drinks.
It is used as a nutrient supplement, stabiliser, thickener, and texturiser and is useful in baked goods, dairy products, beverages, juices, coffee, tea, condiments, jellies, meat products, and other products.
The most common uses:
· As a firming agent in canned vegetables
· It is often used in sports drinks where it acts as an electrolyte, which are ions that conduct electrical activity and help the body maintain fluid balance as well as proper muscle and nerve functions. It also helps maintain bone can health, prevent muscle spasm and keep the heartbeat regular.
· Prevents browning of fresh fruits and vegetables and helps maintain texture.
USES IN DAIRY PRODUCTS
When making cheese, calcium chloride helps create a firmer setting curd. Store bought pasteurised milk or goat’s milk may have a lower calcium content. The amount of calcium in the milk will affect coagulation and coagulation time of the cheese. Adding the calcium chloride allows cheese makers to better control the coagulation process. The amount of calcium chloride added will depend on:
· the acidity (pH) and calcium concentration of the milk;
· processing conditions, such as temperature;
· desired coagulating time.
It is also used in the beer industry to get the correct mineral levels and acidity in the brewing water.