The history of ascorbic acid (or vitamin C) as a food additive began with the identification of vitamin C deficiency, also known as scurvy.
A British naval surgeon named James Lind was the first to identify the benefits that citrus could have for people suffering from vitamin C deficiency. He documented the connection between vitamin C and scurvy around 1747. At this point in history, deficiency in vitamin C was known to kill thousands of British sailors each year.
As a result of his discovery, citrus juice was issued as a daily ration on Britain’s naval vessels. In 1928, a Hungarian biochemist named Albert Szent-Gyorgyi would isolate a compound called hexuronic acid from plant juices and animal tissues. Analysis of hexuronic acid by a British chemist Walter Haworth resulted in hexuronic acid being renamed to ascorbic acid. A year later, he would lead the team of scientists who were the first to synthesize ascorbic acid.
By 1935, the effects of ascorbic acid as a tool for improving dough would be recognized.
Ascorbic acid flavor profile
Like most vitamins, ascorbic acid has a bitter flavor profile and is not generally used to enhance food flavors.
Health benefits of ascorbic acid
As a vitamer of vitamin C, ascorbic acid provides the same benefits as vitamin C. This means that it can be used to improve your health in a number of ways, such as by treating or preventing the following health problems:
- Vitamin C deficiency: While scurvy is rarely found in the modern world, it can still occur in cases where a person does not get enough vitamin C in their diet. The symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include bleeding gums and wounds that do not heal quickly.
- Cancer: Studies have shown that people who consume more than 200 mg of vitamin C each day are less likely to develop cancer. This may be because of ascorbic acid’s antioxidant benefits.
- Osteoarthritis: The body uses ascorbic acid to make collagen, which is a part of cartilage. Osteoarthritis is the loss of cartilage and results in bones rubbing against each other with no cushion in between them. Ascorbic acid may help to build up cartilage and the antioxidant effects may help to limit free radical damage, which is thought to be a cause of cartilage loss.
It is worth noting that ascorbic acid should only be taken in relatively small quantities. large amounts can cause headaches, nausea, and diarrhea.
Common uses of ascorbic acid
This powder has a couple of culinary uses and one of the main ones is due to its antioxidant effects. The browning of fruits like apples and avocados is due to a process called oxidation. Ascorbic acid slows oxidation and helps to preserve color. In addition to its ability to prevent browning, ascorbic acid has a low pH and this can help to slow or stop microbial growth. By preserving color and preventing browning, ascorbic acid helps to preserve freshness. Because of these effects, it is used as a preservative in a number of food products including cured meats as well as in jams and some sauces.
Another way to use ascorbic acid is as a dough conditioner. As such, it is used to strengthen the gluten in bread dough. The result is a finer and more tender crumb and a thinner crust. Ascorbic acid can also help the dough to rise faster. All of these qualities can make bread made with ascorbic acid seem fresher.