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Grab any random food item that comes in a wrapper (i.e, not a fruit or a vegetable), and you’ll find an ingredient list. Some ingredients are easy to understand (flour), others — not so much. That’s where these four free Android apps comes in: If you’ve ever wondered what’s E104 and whether or not it works with your dietary restrictions, you need one of these.
Eat Informed gives you a long list of E-numbers to scroll through, with a quick-search feature amusingly called Fast Computer. The ingredients are color coded, and the little flags next to each denote which territories it’s been approved for use in. This makes it easy to spot “red flags”.
The color coding helps (red is bad, obviously), but so does the fact that you don’t see all three flags next to a given code. For example, E103 (a red coloring agent) has been banned in Europe since the 80s, but you may still find it used in Australia and New Zealand.
Tapping into an ingredient pops open an informative description. You can see an ingredient’s full name, as well as what its common uses (though “improving agent” is definitely on the vague side). The icons denote origin and compatibility with dietary restrictions, and tapping each icon shows a descriptive toast message (as shown in the top-right screenshot).
Eat Informed also allows you to search ingredients by name, not just number. It’s free, but supported by banner ads that run along the bottom.
Simpler than Eat Informed, E-inspect is both free and ad-free. The list is color-coded, but the descriptions are not as informative, as shown below.
Just like Eat Informed, E-inspect allows you to search by name, but it doesn’t have a “live search” feature that narrows the list down as you’re typing (E-Inspect does have this). I would advise using E-inspect only if you really dislike banner ads.
What’s cool about E-Codes is that its “search by number” feature is super-fast and doesn’t even require popping open a keyboard or pressing Enter. As soon as you launch the app, you get two rows of numbers along the bottom of the screen. Type an E-number (say, 235), and the result instantly pops open. The listings are clear and informative, and include detailed explanations of each ingredient’s intended uses.
While you don’t get a list you can just scroll through, E-Codes more than makes up for it with its blazing speed. The interface is easy to use one-handed too: hold a snack in one hand, your phone in the other, and make an informed decision about a given ingredient in seconds. This is the fastest app on the list.
What Additives gives you a live search feature with a built-in number pad, as well as a long list you can browse. Its drawbacks are that the list is not color-coded (not a major issue), and that you get full-screen interstitial ads while using the app. These are even more intrusive than regular banner ads.
On the flip side, What Additives includes two views for each ingredient: an “at a glance” external view, as well as a more detailed information screen. Here’s what E309 looks like:
At a glance, before I even go into the ingredient, you can already see it’s vegan, and that it’s considered safe for kids and generally safe for consumption. Tapping into the ingredient gives you a little more information, though you don’t get country restrictions. The detailed info screen is not very impressive; for example, from just looking at E309 in What Additives, it is hard to understand that this is Vitamin E. Eat Informed Food Additives (the first app on the list) made this much clearer, and its detailed description was significantly better.
Some additives have better descriptions, though:
You Should Have One Installed
The best app on this list is the first one, Eat Informed – Food Additives. It is ad-supported, but it is easy to use and the information presented is clear, authoritative, and comprehensive.
That said, installing any one of these apps is far better than not having any on your phone. Even if you’re not in the habit of perusing ingredient lists, you should install one — once you have all of this detailed information handy, you may find you’re more curious about what’s in your food.
Are there any other great apps for deciphering food labels? Share your findings in the comments.