Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, gets its name from its ability to stave off scurvy. The human body requires ascorbic acid to function normally, but the water-soluble vitamin has uses beyond keeping people healthy. Its antioxidant properties make it a safe preservative for foods and a common ingredient in cosmetics. Non-toxic and water-soluble ascorbic acid also has applications in cleaning solutions.
Ascorbic acid has two properties that make it especially valuable as a preservative for delicate spice blends. Its antioxidant properties keep the oils in spices from growing rancid, and its low acidity does not alter the taste of the mixture's flavorful ingredients. The tongue discerns sour flavors as somewhat salty, so salt substitutes typically contain this mildly sour acid in powdered form. Ascorbic acid crystals also act as a natural desiccant, keeping herbs and spices dry and pourable even in humid climates.
Contact Lens Cleaning Solutions
Non-toxic and biodegradable ascorbic acid acts as a mild antiseptic in contact lens cleaning solutions, keeping the fluid free of bacterial growth. Although it is a mild eye irritant on its own, ascorbic acid is completely water-soluble. Manufacturers use it in lens cleaning fluids because it washes away completely instead of leaving residue that could build up on contact lenses or stay on the lens to irritate the wearer's eyes.
Cold and Flu Remedies
Doctors have documented vitamin C's scurvy-fighting properties since before scientists isolated the compound. Although science has proven vitamin C's anti-scorbutic ability, other claims have less conclusive support. The Mayo Clinic concludes that "no significant reduction in the risk of developing colds has been observed" over the course of over two dozen clinical tries with more than 10,000 participants. Nevertheless, manufacturers include vitamin C in over-the-counter cold preparations due to the compound's enduring reputation as a cold- and flu-fighter.
As ascorbic acid is both an essential nutrient and a preservative, food manufacturers regularly add it to everything from organic baby foods to canned vegetables. Ascorbic acid helps food maintain its fresh color and texture, making it an especially valuable addition to pre-packaged fruits that would otherwise turn unappetizing shades of brown during processing. In its crystalline form, ascorbic acid is also a common constituent of the powdered spice blends that give flavored tortilla chips and potato chips their bold tastes.
For home cooks who prefer to use a prepared compound for washing fresh fruits and vegetables, ascorbic acid is a familiar household product. Fruit and vegetable washes contain ascorbic acid as a mild, non-toxic cleansing agent that will not harm the taste of the food it touches. As ascorbic acid prevents foods from browning, prepared sprays that keep sliced apples and potatoes fresh-looking contain ascorbic acid as their active ingredient.
- Colorado State University; Water-Soluble Vitamins; J. Anderson; L. Young; Aug. 2008
- MayoClinic.com: Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
- Chemical and Engineering News; Food Preservatives; Louisa Dalton; Nov. 11, 2002
- "British Medical Journal"; Limeys: The True Story of One Man's War against Ignorance, the Establishment and the Deadly Scurvy; Sutton Publishing; David I. Harvie; Druin Burch (reviewer)
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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