Phosphates: The Swiss Army Knife of Food Ingredients

JRW Regional Sales Manager Brandy Cleveland, Birmingham, AL


A phosphate, regarding food ingredients, is a phosphoric acid salt, often used in meat, seafood, bakery, and dairy products. It is naturally occurring in many cases, including in muscle tissue as part of the contraction process.

So, what are they used for?

Phosphates, being the “Swiss army knife”, has a wide variety of functionality.


In meat, they are used to modify pH, increase water-holding capacity, aid in protein extraction, and to contribute antioxidative properties. To try and keep things simple, by increasing the pH, the protein structure is opened, which allows water to bind to the protein. This improves tenderness, reduces purge (juices left in the package), increases overall processing yields, and allows meat to bind together in products like boneless hams, chicken nuggets, or hot dogs.


As an antioxidant, phosphates can tie up heavy metals, which ultimately helps the product look nicer and taste better for longer periods of time. You could go as far to say that phosphates contribute to reducing food waste and allow for sustainability by enhancing the usage of biological substances.

Are there any alternatives for phosphate?

The short answer is no, there isn’t anything with the same chemical mode of action as phosphate.

However, certain ingredients exist that can contribute the same functionalities as phosphate.

For example, some specific ingredients can contribute the same yield enhancement and antioxidative properties using natural yeast and citrus extracts. Also, animal-based stocks and broths have water and fat binding properties in meat products.

Wait… So how do I pick the best phosphate?

Specialty phosphate ingredients are specific to certain applications or desired attributes, so it is best to work with your ingredient supplier to pick the best one for your situation. Some, for example, are ideal for cured products, whereas others might be better for a fresh, retail-ready product.

We would love to help you identify the ingredient that is right for you!

Click HERE to contact your JRW Regional Sales Manager to see how phosphates can work for you.

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