What is Sorbic Acid (E200) in Food & Difference with Potassium Sorbate?

What is Sorbic Acid (E200) in Food & Difference with Potassium Sorbate?

Table of Contents

Source | Production | Mechanism | Uses | Safety | Side effects | FAQs 

Sorbic acid, an unsaturated six-carbon fatty acid, is a naturally occurring preservative that is used less in food compared to its potassium salt – potassium sorbate (E202) due to the slight solubility in water. This ingredient can be used in low water content food such as baked goods, cheese, dried fruits, meat and fatty media.

It is generally used to inhibit the growth of molds (also mycotoxin-forming molds), yeast and some bacteria. The European food additive number for it is E200. 

Natural source

It can be naturally found in berries species, such as mountain ash, rowan and magnolia vine. ()

How is Sorbic Acid made?

It is commercially synthesized from the condensation between ketene and crotonaldehyde instead of extracted from berries. The manufacturing process is described in the first three steps of production of potassium sorbate.

How Sorbic Acid works as a Preservative?

The bacteriostatic or bactericidal mechanism of sorbic acid are the same as that of potassium sorbate. When added to water, potassium sorbate dissociates into sorbic acid and potassium ions. It is the sorbic acid that is active as an antimicrobial preservative. 

Like benzoic acid, sorbic acid is a lipid-soluble weak acid that:

  • enters into the cell of microbial through the cell membrane
  • then accumulates and finally influences the internal PH of microbial
  • eventually disrupts its transport functions and metabolic activity
  • result in the death of the microbial


Other names
  • 2,4-Hexadienoic Acid
  • 2-propenylacrylic acid
Chemical formula C6H8O2
CAS No. 110-44-1
Molecular weight 112.128 
Boiling point 270 °C


Colorless needles or white free-flowing powder with a slight faint characteristic odor.



Image Source


In water

Slightly soluble in water (solubility 0.16 g/100 mL at 20 °C) so it is not suitable to use it in food with much water content. Generally, it is made into salts form, potassium sorbate, which is the commonly utilized form.

In organic solvent

Soluble in ethanol, ether, propylene glycol, peanut oil, glycerin and glacial acetic acid. 


The antimicrobial activity of sorbic acid generates when it is in the form of a molecule, the condition of undissociated. 

The PKa of sorbic acid is 4.76. That’s to say, its inhibitory activity rises as pH value (below 4.76) decreases as the percentage of the undissociated sorbic acid goes up, this leads to the enhanced antimicrobial activity. 

The optimal pH for the antimicrobial activity is from 3.0 to 6.5.

What’re the Uses of Sorbic Acid?

Sorbic acid and potassium sorbate have become the primary preservatives in food application due to its good antimicrobial activity & effectiveness in the weak acid pH range and their safety over benzoic acid and sodium benzoate.

Mostly, it protects food from yeast and mold spoilage and commonly added with usage from 0.025% to 0.10%.

Sodium sorbate and Calcium sorbate

Another two sorbates, sodium sorbate and calcium sorbate which were also used as food additives in Europe. However, in other countries, they are permitted, for example, in the US.

Sodium sorbate (previously had the E number E201) is not an approved food additive in the EU for its genotoxicity.

Calcium sorbate (previously had the E number E203) was no longer allowed to be used in the European Union since Jan, 2018 as the EFSA was not able to evaluate its safety due to the lack of data, such as genotoxicity data, also, it was unable to set an ADI. Therefore this ingredient was deleted in the list of food additives. ()


Sorbic acid can prevent the spoilage of yeast, mold, and some bacteria in food and therefore prolong food shelf life. It can be used to preserve foods with low water content and the following food may contain it:

  • cheese
  • dried fruit
  • yogurt
  • pet foods
  • dried meats
  • baked goods.

While in liquid form/aqueous systems for preservation, potassium sorbate is preferred.

How to use it?

Sorbic acid can be added in food with several methods ():

  • directly used 
  • dusted in powder form
  • sprayed onto the food surface
  • dipped into sorbate solutions to prepare a certain concentrations
  • packaging materials


Sorbic acid can also be used as a preservative () in cosmetics and personal care products to inhibit the growth of yeast and mold. 

Is Sorbic Acid Safe to Eat?

Yes, it has been approved as a safe ingredient by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), as well as Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). 


It is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) that can be used as a chemical preservative in accordance with good manufacturing practice for human consumption. ()

Uses limit 

It is authorized in the following food ()

  • Cheeses and cheese related products < 0.2% 
  • cheeses and cheese related products, used alone or combined with potassium or sodium sorbate < 0.3% 
  • Art sw fruit jellies, pres, and jams < 0.1% 
  • Concentrated orange juice < 0.2% 
  • Margarine
Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng

Sophia Feng, Marketing Manager of Grade Chemical, specializes in writing food chemical article, custom chemical article, industry chemical blog.

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