One of the most common questions we get is “how can we make our product last longer?”. An easy to use, shelf stable, food grade preservative that can help most food products extend their shelf is called potassium sorbate. From a home cook’s perspective, one of the most frustrating things to find after spending any amount of time cooking/baking something is to find the product spoiled just a few days later. This is especially frustrating when trying to sell these food stuffs, seeking to create shelf stability for use in marketplaces. All food spoils (with few exceptions) and all biological systems lead toward entropy (disorder), our goal is to slow these processes.
Whichever the case, making your specialty baked good, or your favorite summertime lemonade last longer than average is as simple as adding one extra ingredient. Potassium sorbate has a lengthy history in the US food supply chain and allows various consumable products to extend their shelf life and freshness. So what makes potassium sorbate so special? Sorbic Acid. When potassium sorbate mixes with water, it dissolves readily at room temperature and hydrolyzes (breaks down chemically with water) into sorbic acid, an active antimicrobial agent. Sorbic acid causes an acidification of food substrate material, which restricts the growth and reproduction of food-borne pathogenic bacteria (E. coli, Salmonella, etc).
Potassium sorbate can be used in any water-based food item/ baked good and can be added directly to any “wet” ingredient (eggs, dairy, water) to incorporate within a recipe. It can be brought up to high temperatures (exceeding 390°F) without losing stability, or preservative action, so it is well suited for both stove top and oven use. The proper concentration of potassium sorbate depends on several factors that range from the initial level of contamination before preservation and the overall sanitation of your working environment. The best practice is to start on the lowest side of concentration (0.1% total weight) and do a shelf stability test at room temperature to determine if the dilution is suitable.
Pro tip: Note that potassium sorbate does not work well in yeasted doughs because the antimicrobial properties of potassium sorbate will kill off the yeast before the dough has a chance to rise. For yeasted doughs look for encapsulated potassium sorbate.