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Next to emulsifiers, the additives most widely used in Western "manufactured" foods are acidulants, which give foods a desirable tartness.
Over 120 million pounds of acidulants a year go into candies, fruit juices, gelatine desserts, carbonated soft drinks, instant soft drink mixes, desserts sherbets and other foods in the U.S.A alone.
Citric acid, which occurs naturally in almost every fruit, is the most widely used - and accounts for about 60%, by weight, of all used. Until 1923, citric acid was obtained almost entirely from the juice of lemons, limes and pineapples - this has largely been replaced by acid made from sucrose or dextrose by a fermentation process.
Its attractive flavour, high solubility in water, long history of use and reasonable price make citric acid the standard against which other food acids are judged.
Phosphoric acid, present in the human body, is preferred over citric, however, for cola drinks - its sharp, quick-acting sourness brings out the flavour of these drinks more effectively. The cheapest of the acidulants, phosphoric acid accounts for about 25% of total acidulant use. It"s also used a lot by brewers and cheese makers.
Other acidulants are fumaric acid, malic acid acid and adipic acid. The first of these, the only acidulant not found in nature, is more economical than citric acid - also, it's less hygroscopic - which means it's less likely to absorb water from the air, making it especially useful in dry gelatine powders, puddings and pie fillings. Fumaric acid used to dissolve too slowly in cold water to be used in powdered soft drink mixes, but a fast-dissolving variety is now available which dissolves in ice water in less than thirty seconds, so don't be surprised if you see fumaric acid is listed on packages of belly-wash mix.
Malic acid, the major acid in apples and the one that gives white wines their sprightly sharpness (it also occurs in rhubarb), has been in use as a food additive for more than forty years. It once cost more than twice as much as citric acid, but not any more; a new process has brought its price down to the same level, and it can be used more economically than citric acid to produce the same degree of tartness. It's slightly less hygroscopic than citric acid, as well. Various fruit-flavoured soft drinks, candies, apple drinks, cocktail mixes and newer products are now being made with malic acid.
Also less hygroscopic than citric acid is adipic acid, which may be found listed on packages of gelatine desserts, among other things. It has a blander flavour than citric acid, though pound for pound it's just as acidifying and costs the food processor about the same as citric or malic acid.
Less widely used acidulants include tartaric acid (sometimes used in grape-flavoured soft drinks, jellies and candies), lactic acid and succinic acid.