Sorbic acid is a naturally occurring compound that’s become the most commonly used food preservative in the world, and it makes the global food chain possible. It’s highly effective at inhibiting the growth of mold, which can spoil food and spread fatal diseases. For example, when sorbic acid is sprayed on the exterior of a country ham, there won’t be any mold growth for 30 days. This allows for food to be shipped and stored all over the globe.
Sorbic acid is a preferred preservative compared to nitrates, which can form carcinogenic byproducts. It’s applied to food by either spraying or dipping the food with a solution of sorbic acid and water.
Sorbic acid is most commonly found in foods, animal feeds, pharmaceutical drugs, and cosmetics.
When it comes to human foods, sorbic acid is most commonly used in:
Sorbic acid is used to preserve meats because of its natural antibiotic capabilities. In fact, its earliest use was against one of the deadliest toxins known to mankind, the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, which can cause botulism. Its use saved countless lives by preventing bacterial growth while allowing meats to be transported and stored safely.
Because of its anti-fungal properties, sorbic acid is also used in canned goods, including pickles, prunes, maraschino cherries, figs, and prepared salads.
With a pKa of 4.76, it is about as acidic as acetic acid.
Sorbic acid and its salts, such as sodium sorbate, potassium sorbate, and calcium sorbate, are antimicrobial agents often used as preservatives in food and drinks to prevent the growth of mold, yeast, and fungi. In general the salts are preferred over the acid form because they are more soluble in water, but the active form is the acid. The optimal pH for the antimicrobial activity is below pH 6.5. Sorbates are generally used at concentrations of 0.025% to 0.10%. Adding sorbate salts to food will, however, raise the pH of the food slightly so the pH may need to be adjusted to assure safety. It is found in many other foods, such as cheeses and breads.
The E numbers are:
Sorbic acid can also be used as an additive for cold rubber, and as an intermediate in the manufacture of some plasticizers and lubricants.
|White powder or crystals
|112, 113 g/mol
|Taste and odor
|Slightly acidic and astringent taste with a faint odor