Lactic Acid's Lasting Functionality Finds New Uses in Clean Label Foods

Candy, Shelf Life -

Lactic Acid's Lasting Functionality Finds New Uses in Clean Label Foods

One of my favorite hard candies uses Malic Acid as the one and only acidifier. The malic acid's fruity tartness pairs well with most of the iconic flavors, is resistant to hydroscopic (water absorbing behavior), and balances the sweetness from the sugar to create some iconic sour hard candies. They come twist wrapped in little cellophane bricks and the flavors of artificial sour apple and watermelon are so reminiscent of childhood I use them as the benchmark to describe Americana candy. Any guesses?


But sometimes we want a different product profile, or even a mild acidity "without" an acidic flavor. Stepping outside the United States, Fox's hard candies use Lactic Acid for almost the same exact functional reasons as malic acid. It's a good broad acidifier. Why use lactic acid when fruit candy should supposedly be flavored with citric, malic, and tartaric acids? In hard candy, fruit acids like citric acid are highly hygroscopic (pulls water from its surroundings), meaning they would soften and be more prone to stickiness making the wrapper that much harder to remove. Jolly Rancher's ~2% malic acid helps flavor pop and the moisture control is still manageable. Basically the candy wouldn't make it out the door long before the customer complaints started coming in. 

If you're making a candy, or caramel, or even a hot sauce where a vinegar-like acetic or sour apple acid profile would fit poorly--try lactic acid.

Lactic acid has a super power when it comes to long lasting flavors too--its broad acidity profile is helpful when a sharp sour apple/pear flavor is not desired. Some even describe this acid as "buttery" or "creamy", which I would agree with due to the familiar situations (think sourdough bread or yogurt). Lactic acid is the most descriptive acid in fermented dairy products including yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk. This traditional association with dairy products cues "creaminess" even when lactic acid is used in non-dairy applications. Look to Citric and Fumaric acids to create some serious shock power for sour-dusted gummi candy. Lactic and Malic acids are tart, but more smooth and almost mellow.

 Aside from direct acidified foods (like typical store bought pickles) where acid is added for pickling or some cottage cheeses, most naturally fermented foods are acidified by lactic acid bacteria. Excessive lactic acid bacteria growth in a jug of milk left on the counter will develop undesirable chunky texture. Well-regulated lactic acid bacteria helps yogurt set in into a gel and even contributes beneficial probiotic gut bacteria. As a byproduct of lactic acid bacteria, lactic acid helps preserve many fermented foods including kimchi and sauerkraut. These foods are preserved by the competitive byproducts of lactic acid bacteria and when the acidity reaches a critical threshold the fermentation stops.

In your candy, sauce, or beverage would lactic acid be a better solution to help replace vinegar, achieve the a distinctive flavor, or reduce shelf life limiting stickiness?

Natural fermentation can be challenging to control consistently, would standardized lactic acid be a good alternative for preservation? What about consistent pH & microbial control?

If you're interested to see if Lactic Acid is a good option for your product contact us to set up a consultation with Brandon. ( We are your full-service shelf life and product development specialist.