Lactic acid is a natural by-product of human metabolism, and can be used as an energy source. It is also a product of natural fermentation processes occurring in cheese, beer, sourdough, etc. Commercially, fermenting sugars produces lactic acid. Applications for lactic acid in food are broad, ranging from meat and poultry, beverages, salads, sauces and dressings to nutritional fortification. Lactic acid ingredients serve almost every segment of the food industry, functioning as flavor enhancers, pH regulators, preservatives and, also, as a source for mineral fortification.

Lactic Acids as Flavor Enhancers

Sourness is the characteristic most commonly attributed to acidulants and can be altered depending upon the acid concentration and the pH of the food itself. A low pH equates to higher microbial stability; however, this can elevate the perception of sourness. Processors strive to achieve a balance between microbial stability and flavor expectations. With an increasingly health conscious population, demand for flavorful, fresh salads and low fat/fat free products continues. Reduced fat products and salads typically have a higher water content and, subsequently, are more microbially unstable. A variety of acidulants can confer stability and flavor but express themselves differently, depending on the food environment. Case in point: at pH 3.5, a 0.2% lactic acid solution is perceived as more sour than the same solution at pH 4.5, when compared to 0.2% solution of malic or citric acid. Lactic acid ingredients such as PURAC and PURAC FRESH present themselves as solutions to processors seeking microbial stability w ithout overbearing astringency, tartness or bitterness that can be attributed to other acidulants. Lactic acid ingredients also impact flavor perception, which varies depending upon the acid combinations and food application.

Lactic Acids for Nutrition and Health

Consumers are seeking solutions to nutrition and health problems via food. Ingredient suppliers can be part of the solution by providing ingredients for fortification. But fortification is not simply a market expansion opportunity. A nutrient is only as valuable as its ability to be absorbed, utilized (bioavailability) and palatable. Beyond quality and sensory issues, label regulations also define exactly what claims or words can be used to describe or promote specific nutrient content.

Consumers are familiar with health benefits associated with calcium due to prominent marketing and fortification in products. Potassium recently was awarded an FDA-approved health claim. However, its health benefit, reduced risk for high blood pressure and stroke, is lesser known to the consumer. Given the positive correlation between obesity and blood pressure, potassium fortification is a major opportunity. A closer look at zinc also suggests this nutrient's time may have come. Zinc's well-documented role in wound healing and immune function is well positioned for expansion in a rapidly aging population. More information also is being published on zinc's role in the fight against prostate cancer. In contrast, a burgeoning sports drink market openly embraces magnesium fortification (and supplementation). Magnesium plays physiological roles in muscle function and energy production, both key attributes to athletic performance.

PURAC America Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., a subsidiary of Dutch multinational CSM, is the world's largest producer of natural lactic acids and lactates. PURAC's mineral fortification range encompasses calcium, magnesium, zinc, ferrous and potassium lactates.

For more information:
Casper Ravesteijn at 847-634-6330,
Purac America Inc. Write in 306