What are acidity regulators and why are they added to foodLast Updated : 01 December 2021
Previous articles of this series highlighted preservatives and antioxidants, two food additives that are familiar to most informed consumers. The present issue deals with acidity regulators and acidifiers, a less well known, but not less important food additive used to give a sour taste to food and to act as a preservative. Some acidifiers also act as stabilizers, others help antioxidants or emulsifiers, or assist in colour retention. It may seem a minor parameter, but to maintain the appropriate pH is the first step to ensure food safety and a longer shelf life.
The importance of pH
The pH of a food is the measure of that product's acidity or alkalinity. The pH-scale ranges from 0 to 14. A pH less than 7 is acidic, a pH of 7 is neutral and a pH greater than 7 is alkaline or basic. Our sense of taste can recognize only major differences in the pH within complex food systems. An acid product would taste sour, while an alkaline product would taste bitter. Some examples of acid foods are citrus fruits (e.g. orange, lemon, grapefruit), juices or yoghurt. Examples of alkaline products are egg white and baking soda.
Acidity regulators are used to alter and control the acidity or alkalinity on a specific level important for processing, taste and food safety. Inadequate control of the pH can result in the growth of undesirable bacteria in the product that could be a potential health hazard.
Acidified foods and acidification
Acidification is one means of preserving food products. In addition to preventing bacteria growth, acidification helps maintain a desired product quality. Cucumbers, artichokes, cauliflower, peppers and fish are examples of low-acid foods that are normally acidified. If acidification is not adequately controlled at a pH of 4.6 or below, Clostridium botulinum, a dangerous toxin-producing micro-organism, can grow in certain foods.
Examples of acidity regulators in the EU
Citric acid (E 330) enhances the activity of many antioxidants, but is no antioxidant by itself. It is mainly used as an acidity regulator as well as aroma compound. In addition it increases gel consistency in marmalades and decreases enzymatic browning in fruits and fruit products.
Calcium acetate (E 263) has several functions. It is used in some foods as a thickening agent (cake mixtures, puddings, pie fillings), but can act as a buffer in controlling the pH of food during processing, as a preservative to prevent microbial growth, and as a calcium supplement in pet products.
Fumaric acid (E 297) is added to foods as an acidity regulator and flavouring agent. They are used in bread, fruit drinks, pie fillings, poultry, wine, jams, jelly.
Some foodstuffs in which they are used
fish fingers, butter, margarine, processed cheese, curry powder, cooking oil.
packet desserts, pie fillings
cheese, milk, meat and poultry, salads, sauces and beverages
tinned fruit, vegetables and pulses, jams, jelly, frozen vegetables
bread, fruit drinks, pie fillings, poultry, wine, jams, jelly
fruits and vegetables (lemons and limes), soft drinks
bakery, candies, jams, juices and wine
Acidity regulators are subject, just like any other food additive, to stringent EU legislation governing authorisation, use and labelling, Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 establishing a common authorisation procedure for food additives, food enzymes and food flavourings. This legislation requires all added acidity regulators, as all food additives, to be declared on food packaging by their category with either their name or E-number.