The E number known as E631 (or sodium inosinate) is an additive that is used in many products to act as a flavour enhancer and make foods taste good. As well as enhancing other flavours, it’s used frequently in products such as potato crisps as it also helps to reduce the amount of salt needed (and reducing salt intake has become quite a big health concern in recent years, with manufacturers vying to get their levels of salt in products down).
Sodium inosinate comes from inosinic acid, an acid that is naturally found in a variety of animals, such as pigs or fish, such as sardines. In some cases it can also be produced from bacterially fermenting some sugars.
As far as commercial use goes, most manufacturers do source their E631 from animals and fish, whilst a few may use the fermentation method. The tricky bit is if you want to specifically avoid E631 that comes from pork, as most products will not say on their ingredients list exactly where it comes from.
You could try writing to manufacturers to ask exactly where it comes from. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get a definitive answer, but it’s always worth a try and, you never know, some might be receptive and willing to give you the facts. However, if it’s an issue that really concerns you and you don’t want to find yourself unknowingly consuming food with E631 sourced from pigs, probably the best move is to avoid the products completely.
It’s hard work sometimes trying to avoid these pesky E numbers, especially with so many hidden in the foods and drinks we enjoy, but if you really do need or want to avoid certain numbers, scouring the ingredients lists before you buy products is the best way of ensuring you’re not getting more than you bargained for.
We realize the importance for many people of avoiding products extracted from pigs, which is why we’ve published articles such as this one on – E numbers not suitable for a Halal diet – if you’re looking to avoid other E numbers with links to pork products, then you may find this to be a useful read.
E Numbers Not Suitable for a Halal Diet
If you’re following a halal diet for religious reasons then it’s important to know which E numbers aren’t suitable to be consumed. Here we explore which numbers you should be avoiding.
The term halal is an Arabic word that means permissible and refers to food that is permissible to eat according to Islamic laws. As a result of these laws, foods such as pork, or any product containing ingredients sourced from pork, such as gelatine, are unable to be consumed by Muslims. The situation can be a bit tricky when it comes to E numbers, as in order to be sure that they are halal, you need to know the full origins of the additive.
The origins can sometimes vary. For example, in the case of antioxidants such as E306 (tocopherol), it is halal if the tocopherol comes from plant fat. However, it’s not halal if the tocopherol is obtained from pork fat. Some of the other E numbers that can be variable include:
- E470 to E483 – these emulsifiers can be halal, unless they are obtained from pork or non-halal meat sources.
- E542 – edible bone phosphate. This isn’t halal if it comes from pork or non-halal sources.
- E422 – glycerol or glycerine. This can be halal, unless it is obtained from pork or non-halal meat sources.
In the case of E numbers that could be derived from animal or plant sources, the best way to be sure of where they come from is to either look at the packaging or contact the manufacturer. If the packaging says, “suitable for vegetarians,” the chances are that the ingredients are from plant sources. But if you want to double-check, then phone or write to the manufacturer and ask for clarification. It’s also worth noting that some mosques and Muslim organisations maintain lists of non-halal E numbers, so ask if anything is available in your area.
Halal Unsuitable E Numbers
- E120 – cochineal
- E140 – chlorophyll
- E141 – copper phaeophytins
- E252 – potassium nitrate
- E422 – glycerol/glycerine
- E430 – polyoxyethelene (8) stearate
- E431 – polyoxyethelene (40) stearate
- E433 – polysorbate 80
- E470 – sodium salts
- E471 – glyceryl monosterate
- E472a – acetic esters of fatty acids
- E472b – lactic esters of fatty acids
- E472c – citric esters of fatty acids
- E472d – tartaric esters of fatty acids
- E472e – acetyltartaric esters of fatty acids
- E473 – sucrose esters
- E474 – sucroglycerides
- E475 – polyglycerol esters of fatty acids
- E476 – polyglycerol polyricinoleate
- E477 – propylene glycol esters
- E478 – lactylated glycerol esters
- E491 – sorbitan monostearate
- E492 – sorbitan Tristearate
- E494 – sorbitan mono-oleate
- E542 – edible bone phosphate
- E570 – stearic acid
- E572 – magnesium stearate
- E631 – sodium 5 inosinate
- E635 – sodium 5 ribonucleotide
- E904 – shellac
It’s important to note that ingredients of products do change, so a processed food that you have been unable to eat in the past may become suitable for a halal diet at a later stage if the offending E number is removed or replaced. Likewise, things can change in the other direction, with manufacturers adding different E numbers to favourite foods so they suddenly become unsuitable for your dietary requirements. So keep up-to-date up studying food labels and consulting with other Muslims, so you can be sure what you’re eating is permissible at all times.
Avoiding E Numbers when Choosing Food
As you become more aware of health issues and food safety it’s not surprising that you may be keen to avoid consuming E numbers too. But how do you go about avoiding the E numbers when you’re buying and choosing food?
At first, the answer to this question may seem gleaming obviously. Surely it’s just a case of taking care to spot the E numbers listed on food and drink labels and choose alternative products if you spot an E number or two lurking in the ingredients? Whilst that certainly is a good starting point, it’s sadly not always so clear cut or simple to do. This is because sometimes food producers put the full name of an ingredient on the list, rather than the shortened E number, so it’s not always instantly easy to spot which ingredient is which.
By law, food additives have to be mentioned on food and drink labels, so the good news is that if you want to avoid them, details will be listed somewhere. But spotting the pesky numbers when they’re listed under their full names isn’t always so easy. Here are some of the E numbers that have been highlighted as potential causes for concern and that some people therefore like to avoid, along with details of their proper names.
E951 – this is otherwise known as aspartame and it’s a widely used sweetener. Some food labels do mention aspartame, but not E951, so this is one terminology that it’s worth making a note of and remembering.
E213 – also called calcium benzoate. This is a preservative that’s found in low-sugar foods and drinks and it’s best avoided by people who suffer from allergic conditions.
E621 – also called monosodium glutamate (MSG). This is a flavour enhancer that’s added to foods to pep up the taste. But some people are sensitive to MSG and have suffered side effects if consuming it.
E124 – otherwise known as ponceau 4R or cochineal red A. This is a food colouring, but is one of the colourings that’s been linked to asthma and other allergic conditions.
E220 – also called sulphur dioxide. This is a preservative that is used extensively in all sorts of foods. But adverse reactions have been recorded, particularly bronchial problems.
E102 – this is also called tartrazine. It’s a yellow food colouring and people with allergic conditions may be extra sensitive to it.
These examples highlight just some of the E numbers that are commonly avoided, but of course there may be more that you’d like to avoid. If this is the case, the best course of action is to obtain details of the proper names and keep a note of them. Perhaps write the details on a small piece of paper or card that you can keep in your purse/wallet and check when you’re out shopping.
Back to Basics
The simplest way of ensuring you, your family or your child avoid E numbers completely is to avoid purchasing and eating all processed, packaged and refined foods. It sounds drastic, but needn’t be so. If you include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, reduce fat and sugar consumption, choose quality meats and fish, eat pulses and beans and consume whole foods rather than refined foods, you’ll not only be avoiding E numbers but you’ll also be giving your health and diet as a whole a fantastic boost!
It is worth keeping in mind that tinned and canned foods generally don’t have E numbers in them, as the canning process helps preserve food, so it doesn’t need lots of other things added to it.
Although lots of food products today are packed with E numbers, it’s not an impossible task to avoid them. The bottom line is: get to grips with the facts and get checking those labels!