Malic acid is a naturally occurring organic compound that is produced by all plants and animals. It is a dicarboxylic acid that gives foods sour taste and can be found in high concentrations in fruits such as rhubarb, apples, grapes, blackberries and peaches.
In 1785, Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele first isolated malic acid from apple juice, but it wasn’t until 2 years later that Antoine Lavoisier suggested the name, which comes from the Latin ‘malum’, meaning apple. Today, it is also known as fruit acid or apple acid, and the taste of malic acid has since been associated with sour apples, to the extent that it is often used to create this effect in sweets, sometimes alongside citric acid.
With a pH of only 2.19, it is one of the strongest culinary acids and can be used for its chemical properties in lowering the pH of a recipe or it’s reaction with other ingredients. It is also used as a food additive to recreate a sour taste in foods such as salt and vinegar crisps.
Malic acid in winemaking
Because it is found naturally in grapes, malic acid is also one of the primary flavours in wine, although levels of malic acid decrease as the grapes ripen. Many winemakers also use malolactic fermentation to make the flavour of their wine less tart and more rounded. This process is commonly used in most red wine production, and in some white and sparkling wine production where one of the main by-products, diacetyl, imparts a buttery flavour.
Malolactic fermentation works by converting the grapes’ natural malic acid into lactic acid, which has a softer flavour. Winemakers usually perform the malolactic fermentation as a secondary process, after the initial fermentation is completed. The metabolic activity of the lactic acid bacteria produced in the process not only improves the flavour of the wine, but also gives it a deeper aroma and makes it more microbially stable.
Malic acid for making sweets
For those who like to make their own sweets, malic acid is a great way to give a sour sweet a real kick. Because of its flavour profile, it cane be used to give a deeper and more intense flavour to sweets flavoured with apple, cherry and apricot.
It is particularly helpful for those who want to make sugar-free sweets as it allows you to create a tart sweetness that masks the flavour of artificial sweeteners very effectively. It is great way to add flavour without affecting the viscosity of your mixture and it has a low melting point which means it can easily be included in molten confections without needing to increase the temperature or add water.
Malic acid in other recipes
Malic acid can be used in a range of recipes including salad dressings, preserves, jellies and and everything in between. It is often used to give a boost to savoury flavours such as spicy peppers and cheese in snack foods. Malic acid works well with pectin in jams and other fruit fillings, particularly in baked goods. The malic acid acts as a buffering agent which gives the fruit a more consistent texture as well as enhancing the deeper flavours.
Because it is gluten free, vegan and vegetarian, it can be added to dishes as a flavour enhancer that is safe for those with a range of dietary needs. Malic acid can also be used in brewing, as a fermentation aid when making beer or wine from fruits or flowers with low natural acidity. It can also be used to aid maceration as a way to preserve berries and other soft fruit using the power of osmosis.