Food Additive Numbering Scheme

The Food Additive Numbering Scheme was developed for use within the EU and enables the identification of food additives by code numbers. It is the scheme that generates the famed ‘E numbers’ that one sees in the ingredients declarations of food packages.

The European scheme is based on the International Numbering System for Food Additives devised by the Codex Alimentarius committee of the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

The Food Additive Numbering Scheme provides a convenient means of classifying food additives as well as a kind of shorthand for quick identification – provided one either remembers the codes or has access to a code list. Unfortunately, in this respect, it is of small value to most consumers as they are unlikely to know what the codes stand for and, in many instances, if the name of an additive is used, their knowledge of it will likely be limited.

Websites such as this can of course help to clarify understanding.

For example...

The E number E481 is the code for the emulsifier sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate. Few consumers will understand what food emulsifiers do let alone what sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate actually is and how it works as an emulsifier.

The Categories

The Food Additive Numbering Scheme classifies food additives into different categories as shown in the following tables. Use the links to explore the function and uses of some of the selected food additives.

Food Colours

E number range Additive identification
100-109 Yellows
110-119 Oranges
120-129 Reds
130-139 Blues and Violets
140-149 Greens
150-159 Browns and Blacks
160-199 Gold and other colours

Food Preservatives

E number range Additive identification
200-210 Sorbates
211-219 Benzoates
220-229 Sulphites
230-239 Phenols & Formates (Methanoates)
240-259 Nitrates
260-269 Acetates (Ethanoates)
270-279 Lactates
280-289 Propionates (Propanoates)
290-299 Others

Antioxidants and Acidity Regulators

E number range Additive identification
300-305 Ascorbates
306-309 Tocopherol
310-319 Gallates and Erythrobates
320-329 Lactates
330-339 Citrates and Tartrates
340-349 Phosphates
350-359 Malates and Adipates
360-369 Succinates and Fumarates
370-399 Others

Thickeners, Stabilizers and Emulsifiers

E number range Additive identification
400-409 Alginates
410-419 Natural gums
420-429 Other natural agents
430-439 Polyoxythene compounds
440-449 Natural emulsifiers
450-459 Phosphates
460-469 Celluloses
470-489 Fatty acids and related compounds
490-499 Others

pH Regulators and Anti-caking agents

E number rangeAdditive identification
500-509Mineral acids and bases
510-519Chlorides and sulphates
520-529Sulphates and hydroxides
530-549Alkali metal compounds
570-579Stearates and gluconates

Flavour Enhancers

E number range Additive identification
620-629 Glutamates and guanylates
630-639 Isocynates
640-649 Others


E number range Additive identification
900-909 Waxes
910-919 Synthetic glazes
920-929 Improving agents
930-949 Packaging gasses
950-969 Sweeteners
990-999 Foaming agents

Additional Chemicals

E number range Additive identification
1000-1525 Various compounds