Acidulants are additives that give a sharp taste to foods. They also assist in the setting of gels and to act as preservatives.
The pH of a food is a measure of its acidity, alkalinity or neutrality. Living tissues contain solutions called buffers which help to keep a constant pH inside cells.
Many natural foods are acidic. For example, oranges, lemons, apples, tomatoes, cheese and yoghurt contain natural acids, such as citric acid, that give them their characteristically sharp taste.
Acids, alkalis and buffers have important roles in the food industry. Acids have been used for centuries as important contributors to flavour and the acid environment they produce prevents the growth of many microorganisms. Bicarbonates, particularly bicarbonate of soda, are used as mild alkalis whilst phosphates are used for their buffering action as well as for their characteristic taste.
As the food industry has developed, so has the growth in production of processed foods. Many of these need the inclusion of an acidulant to give an acidic or sour taste.
Acids and Applications in Food
By far the most important, versatile and widely used organic acid is citric acid. It is used in food products, drinks and the pharmaceutical industry. Each year about 320,000 tonnes of citric acid is used in the production of foods and beverages.
The list below shows some common acidulants. Click on each acidulant to see more details.