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Unveiling the Tangy Arsenal: The Dynamics of Acidulants in Food - Key Types and Influences

Author: Site Editor     Publish Time: 2023-11-03      Origin: Site

Principles of Sourness

Sourness is the sensation caused by the stimulation of taste buds by hydrogen ions. Hence, any compound that can release H+ ions in a solution has a sour taste. However, the relationship between the concentration of sourness and its intensity is not a simple one. Different acids produce different sensations of sourness, and the perception of sourness in the oral cavity is influenced by factors such as the type of acid, pH value, titratable acidity, buffering capacity, and other substances, especially the presence of sugars.


At the same pH level, organic acids generally impart a stronger sour sensation compared to inorganic acids. The most common edible acids exhibit varying degrees of sourness even at the same concentration. Additionally, the perception of sourness in aqueous solutions differs from that in actual food products. Sourness is influenced by buffering effects, and weak acids exhibit a stronger sourness than mineral acids at equal pH levels. Both saliva and various food components contribute to buffering effects.

The anions of acidulants impact the flavor of foods. Most organic acids provide a refreshing sour taste, while most inorganic acids (such as hydrochloric acid) impart a bitter taste, degrading the quality of the food. This effect is primarily due to the influence of anions. The anions from acidulants often give rise to additional flavors in food, known as off-flavors. Ethanol and sugars can attenuate sourness. The combination of sweetness and sourness is a crucial factor in the flavor profile of fruit beverages.



Types of Food Acidulants

Currently, there are over 20 types of acidulants used worldwide, with an annual demand growth rate of 3% to 5%. Food acidulants are categorized into organic and inorganic acidulants, along with some related organic salts and inorganic salts that can also serve as acidulants.


Common acidulants are usually organic acids such as citric acid, malic acid, lactic acid, tartaric acid, and acetic acid, which find widespread applications in modern food industries.

Among these, citric acid is the most extensively used acidulant, constituting over 70% of the market share among organic acids. Phosphoric acid is one of the most commonly used inorganic acidulants.


The sour taste in food primarily comes from water-soluble organic and inorganic acids. Fruits and their derivatives contain acids like malic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid, succinic acid, and acetic acid. In meat and fish products, lactic acid is predominant. Additionally, there are inorganic acids such as hydrochloric acid and phosphoric acid. Some of these acids occur naturally in foods, like tartaric acid in grapes and citric acid in apples. Others are added deliberately, such as citric acid in soft drinks, and some are produced during fermentation, like lactic acid in sour milk.




Functions of Food Acidulants

Flavor Enhancers: Acidulants, obtained through various sources, are essential flavor enhancers in food, significantly impacting the overall taste. Most organic acids possess a strong fruity aroma, stimulating the appetite, promoting digestion, and playing a crucial role in maintaining the body's acid-base balance.


Color Stability: The presence of acidulants in food, determining the pH level, contributes to maintaining stable colors. During fruit processing, lowering the medium's pH by adding acids inhibits enzymatic browning. Vegetables blanched in boiling water with a pH of 6.5-7.2 retain their distinctive green color.


Preservative Effects: Acidulants also act as preservatives in food. When the pH of a food product is below 2.5, most microorganisms' growth is inhibited, excluding molds. Controlling the concentration of acetic acid at 6% effectively suppresses the growth of spoilage bacteria.


Understanding the principles and types of acidulants is essential in the food industry, ensuring the desired taste, color, and preservation of various food products. By incorporating these insights, food manufacturers can create appealing and high-quality food items for consumers worldwide.

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