Functions Of Food Acids

Food acidulants and their salts perform a variety of functions. These functions are as antioxidants, curing and pickling agents, flavor enhancers, flavoring agents and adjuvants, leavening agents, pH control agents, sequestrants, and synergists. The definitions for these functions are contained in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (5). Some of the functions overlap and in any given application an acidulant will often perform two or more functions.

Flavor Enhancer and Flavor Adjuvant

These functions are performed by a majority of the acidulants consumed by the food and beverage industries. Acids provide a tang or tartness that compliments and enhances many flavors but do not impart a characteristic flavor of their own. The acid itself should have a clean taste and be free of off notes that are foreign to foods. Some acids, such as succinic acid, have a distinctive taste which is incompatible with most food products; and hence, these acids have achieved very little use.

The need for tartness is obvious. Citrus and berry flavors would be flat and lifeless without at least a touch of acidity. However, not all fruit flavors require the same degree of tartness. Lemon candies and beverages are traditionally very sour, while orange and cherry are a little less tart. Flavors like strawberry, watermelon, and tropical fruits require only a trace of acidity for flavor enhancement.

In noncola carbonated beverages, beverage mixes, candies and confections, syrups and toppings, and any application where high solubility is required, citric and malic acids are used extensively. Fumaric acid is used in all ready constituted still beverages for economic reasons. Several acids are suitable for some flavors but not for others. For example, phosphoric acid is used in cola beverages but not in fruit flavored ones. Tartaric acid presents still another category. It has traditionally been used in grape flavored products even though it is suitable for other flavors.

The general purpose acids impart different degrees of tartness that are in part a result of their different acid strengths. Table 2 summarizes the tartness equivalence of the general purpose acids. The relationship shown is based only on tartness intensity and not character of flavor. This relationship can change depending on the formulation ingredients and the particular flavor system being studied. Malic acid, for example, has been claimed to be 10-15% more tart than citric acid in juice based, fruit flavored still beverages. In fruit and berry carbonated beverages, both acids have been perceived as being of equal tartness. Tartness is a difficult property to measure precisely and it must be determined by a trained and experienced taste panel.

Acids have also been used for their effects on masking undesired flavors in foods and food ingredients. Both citric and malic acids and citrate salts are known for their ability to mitigate the unpleasant aftertaste of saccharin. Gluconate salts and glucono-delta-lactone (GDL) have been patented for this function (6,7). Claims of enhanced benefits for malic acid over citric acid when used with the new intense sweeteners have been made but definitive advantages have not yet been demonstrated.

pH Control

Control of acidity in many food products is important for a variety of reasons. Precise pH control is important in the manufacture of jams, jellies, gelatin desserts, and pectin jellied candies in order to achieve optimum development of gel character and strength. Precise pH control is also important in the direct acidification of dairy products to achieve a smooth texture and proper curd formation. Increasing acidity enhances the activity of antimicrobial food preservatives, decreases the heat energy required for sterilization, inactivates enzymes, aids the development of

Table 2. Tartness Equivalence

General-purpose acids

Weight equivalence

Citric

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