Kraft Foods has recently announced that they will be removing artificial preservatives (specifically sorbic acid) from most of their “Singles” cheese slices.

What is sorbic acid?

Sorbic acid is a natural organic compound. “Organic” refers to any compound whose molecules contain carbon atoms. It should not be confused with organic farming.

It is most often used as a food preservative. It is also sometimes used as an additive in rubber1 and lubricates. It is estimated that 30,000 tons are produced annually.


Sorbic acid is a colourless solid. It is slightly soluble in water. It is also relatively unstable and degrades rapidly. It has the chemical formula C6H8O2

Sorbic Acid Chemical Structure
Chemical Structure

In 1859, a man named A.W von Hofmann discovered sorbic acid through distillation of rowanberry oil. The scientific name for the rowan tree (also known as the mountain ash) is Sorbus aucuparia. So, you can see where the name comes from. These days, it is produced synthetically.

Sorbic acid is an antimicrobial agent. It is often used as a preservative in food and drinks. It prevents the growth of mold, yeast, and fungi. The salts of sorbic acid are sodium sorbate, potassium sorbate, and calcium sorbate.  The salts are usually preferred in food applications. This is because they are more soluble in water.

One of its disadvantages is that it affects the taste and pH of foods.

Common Uses

It is found in many foods, such as cheeses and breads.

Health Issues / Side Effects

Sorbic acid has been used has a food preservative since the 1940’s. There have been extensive long-term tests that have confirmed its safety. It is on the Centre for Science in the Public Interest list of safe additives.2

E Number

The E number of sorbic acid is 200. Related additives include:


  1. Significantly improved performance of rubber/silica composites – Polymer Journal
  2. Centre for Science in the Public Interest
  3. Chemical Safety Information from Intergovernmental Organizations


If you want to read more, try the following links..

  1. Kraft removing artificial preservatives from cheese slices – CBC

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5 Comments on “Sorbic Acid

  1. Can sorbic acid be produced naturally in cheese making/production? or is this purely an additive?

    • Hi Scott,

      That’s a good question.

      To be honest, I don’t know if sorbic acid can ever be produced naturally during cheese making. From what I’ve read, I would guess that the answer is no and that it is strictly an additive.

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