How Ascorbic Acid Works

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The Struggle:

Preservation is a constant topic that we see come up. How do we keep food from going bad? Whatever the reason is, the main goal is always to prevent waste. From home canning to commercial, ascorbic acid is an easy to use ingredient that will keep the colors bright and the flavors fresh. But how exactly does it do this well let’s find out. 

“How exactly does ascorbic acid work?” 

Vitamin See What You Did There

Ascorbic acid is also known as vitamin C, which I’m sure most people have heard of is not only an acid but an antioxidant. The word antioxidant is thrown around quite a bit and placed on labels and pedestals, but do we really know what that means? Don’t worry this will not turn into a health and wellness blog. Let’s talk about what antioxidants mean for food. 

Antioxidants are ingredients that prevent oxidation. Now if we think about oxidation some specific foods come to mind. But for those of you who may not know, here is an example. If you cut an apple or a potato in half and allow it to be exposed to oxygen it will react. The reaction is called oxidation. The apply will take on a golden brown color and the potato with enough time will turn gray then eventually black. This oxidation also changes how the food tastes. Go ahead, eat that brown apple and tell me it tastes the same. Oxidation changes the color and flavor of a food that reacts quickly with oxygen. If only there was something that was, let’s say, ANTI oxidation….?. An antioxidant prevents the oxidation from happening. I don’t expect everyone to keep a bag of ascorbic acid in their pocket to sprinkle on, after every bite of apple. There are really easy ways to apply ascorbic acid to prevent oxidation. 3g to 1 gallon of water will have enough ascorbic acid to prevent oxidation. As you peel and slice the apples for an apple pie a quick soak in an ascorbic acid bath will keep them fresh until they are all prepped and cooked. Ascorbic acid is also used in canning for 2 reasons. The first being the color and fresh flavor retention. 

The second reason you would use ascorbic acid is to lower the pH of the canned food. On top of being an antioxidant, it’s an acid which means it will prevent some bacteria from growing. The most dangerous bacteria that could grow in canned food is botulism. But botulism can not grow below 4.6ph. The FDA also states that the safe levels for acidic canned foods is 4.6pH and below. Ascorbic acid has a mild clean flavor and can be added to foods to lower the pH to safe levels prior to canning. For those of you wondering, 4.6ph is about as acidic as canned tomatoes. So do not worry if you don’t want to make your foods too “sour” by adding ascorbic acid. This level of acidity is easy to balance. And for anyone wondering how to measure the pH of foods you can check out these litmus test strips for home use. 

Ascorbic acid is essential for anyone who is looking to prolong the life of their fresh foods. Whether it be fresh apple slices for your children’s lunch boxes to canned vegetables from your garden. Give ascorbic acid a try with these great Potato Latkes with Shredded Apple Sauce and you will be amazed. And until next time, keep cooking.