One of the best aspects of food preservatives is that they can serve two roles as both a preservative and flavor-enhancer, particularly when they’re paired with the right ingredients. The use of sodium benzoate in food is a perfect example of this. Due to its high level of acidity, it isn’t appropriate for all foods, but it’s a perfect way to enhance and protect foods that are bitter, sour, or salty!
Why Using Sodium Benzoate in Food Makes Sense for Sour Dishes
Sodium benzoate is the sodium salt of benzoic acid and readily converts back to that acid when exposed to water. Benzoic acid is a wholly natural product, found in numerous fruits and vegetables, seafood, and even milk! Fundamentally, benzoic acid is one of nature’s own preservatives, and sodium benzoate is basically just a portable form of it that’s easily added to packaged foods.
Sodium benzoate is also considered entirely safe to consume, as long as it’s within recommended levels as enforced by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) as well as similar bodies around the world.
Sodium benzoate’s best attribute as a preservative is that it’s an anti-fungal, preventing preserved foods from becoming infected with fungus spores that could potentially make people sick. Its high level of acidity also allows it to create a generally inhospitable environment for other microorganisms as well.
Like all acidic substances, sodium benzoate has a noticeably sharp and bitter flavor, with some salty undertones as well. This means it isn’t the best choice for all-purpose preservation, but it’s perfect for dishes that are already sour, bitter, or salty. It also pairs well with many hot sauces and other sources of capsaicin heat, which also tend to be sour or bitter. In these cases, it doesn’t merely protect the food from infestation, it also enhances the taste!
Just a few of the packaged foods which frequently utilize sodium benzoate include:
- Vinegar-based salad dressings
- Soy sauce and other fermented sauces
- Acidic fruit preserves
- Fruit juices
- Soured milk products
- Ketchup, mustard, and similar condiments
In short, sodium benzoate in food is excellent for preserving and enhancing almost any food which is already somewhat bitter, sour, or acidic.
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