Succinic Acid in Food & Beverage Products

Succinic acid serves several purposes in food and beverage products, acting as an acidulant, flavoring agent and enhancer, preservative, and pH control agent.
5 min read

Succinic acid – also known as butanedionic acid – is a natural acid found in many types of living organisms that produce it through biosynthesis. It occurs in various vegetables, fungi, bacteria, and yeast, which have metabolic pathways that can produce succinic acid as part of their normal physiological processes. Succinic acid is produced commercially through chemical synthesis and biological fermentation and is used in the food industry as a multi-purpose additive.

What is Succinic Acid?

Succinic acid is an α,ω-dicarboxylic acid resulting from the formal oxidation of each terminal methyl group of butane to the corresponding carboxyl group. It is one of the organic acids and is an intermediate metabolite in the citric acid cycle.

Chemical structure of Succinic Acid

Source: Wikipedia

How is Succinic Acid Produced?

While succinic acid is found in natural sources, modern commercial production is done via chemical synthesis or fermentation.  

Natural SourcesHistorically, obtained from amber by distillation
Chemical SynthesisObtained by catalytic hydrogenation of maleic acid or its anhydride
Fermentative SynthesisFermentatively produced by genetically modified E. coli or S. cerevisiae

Both chemical synthesis and biological fermentation methods are used to produce succinic acid for food and beverage products, and the choice of the production method depends on factors such as cost, scalability, and environmental considerations. Biological fermentation is considered a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach. However, the process requires careful optimization of fermentation conditions, including pH, temperature, nutrient availability, and oxygen levels.

Applications in the Food & Beverage Industry 

Succinic acid serves several purposes in food and beverage products, including the following: 

AcidulantSuccinic acid is an acidulant of relatively low acid strength. It is used to reduce the pH of certain foods. 
Flavoring AgentSuccinic acid imparts a slightly salty and bitter taste along with sourness. It has a slow taste buildup and lingering taste.
PreservativeSuccinic acid exhibits strong antibacterial activity and a pH-lowering effect, which helps improve the shelf life of food products. 
Flavor EnhancerSuccinic acid can be used to improve the flavor profile of food products.

Product Examples

Succinic acid is used in a wide variety of foods and beverages, as described in the table below:

BeveragesCarbonated Beverages, Still Beverages, Fruit Juices
ConfectioneryCandies, Chewing Gums, Soft Chews, Hard Boiled Candies
Convenience FoodsPowdered Beverages, Powder Mixes
Fruit Preparations and PreservesJams, Jellies, Squash, Marmalades
BakeryCake, Cookies, Snack Bars, Pies
DessertsGelled Desserts, Cream-Based Desserts

Properties of Succinic Acid

Molar Mass118.09 g/mol
Melting Point188°C
Specific gravity (25 °C)1.572
AppearanceWhite crystals or powder
Solubility (Water @ 20 °C)80 g/L
pH (1mM aqueous)3.65
Refractive Index1.450

Typical Formulations

Meat Flavoring

Here is an example of a meat flavoring formulation table with succinic acid, along with the composition of ingredients: 

Casein Protein Hydrolysate1.0 g
Monosodium Glutamate1.0 g
Inosine-S ‘-monophosphate0.6 g
Succinic Acid0.15 g
Lactic Acid3.0 g

Source: Google Patents  

Beverage Mix

Here is an example of a beverage mix formulation table with succinic acid, along with the composition of ingredients: 

Citric Acid (Anhydrous)3.6 g
Succinic Acid1.2 g
Phosphoric Acid1.4 g
Calcium Carbonate0.4 g
Magnesium Carbonate1.5 g
Potassium Carbonate2.2 g
Sucrose100 g
Yellow Color0.001 g
Orange Flavor2.0 g
Potassium Benzoate Solution (2.5%)20 g
WaterAdjust to reach 1000 g

Source: Google Patents 

Succinic Acid Formulation Considerations

Physical FormsCrystals, Powder
StabilityThermal Decomposition: 235 ℃Easily absorbs moisture
Sensory AttributesOdor: Odorless
Taste: Tart taste with slow taste build-up, while pure aqueous solution is slightly bitter
Color: White to off-white
Dosage0.1-2% or more (depends on end application)
Interaction with Other ComponentsInteracts with strong bases and strong oxidizing agents

Acetic acid is another organic acid that is commonly found in various food products.

Safety & Regulatory Considerations

FDA InformationThe FDA affirms the status of the food additive succinic acid as Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS). It approves the use of succinic acid as a flavor enhancer and pH control agent. 
EU Information Succinic acid is approved by the EU as a food additive with number E 363. 

Health Effects of Succinic Acid

  • Anti-Inflammatory Activity — Succinic acid has been reported to possess cardioprotective, antithrombotic, and anti-inflammatory activity. 
  • Antimicrobial Activity — Succinic acid can be used in the food industry to control bacterial contamination by S. aureus and P. fluorescens.

Identification Numbers

Chemical NameButanedioic acid
CAS Number110-15-6
EC Number203-740-4
INS No. (Food Additive)INS 363
FEMA Number4719

Acceptable Limits or Maximum Usage

The maximum usage level of succinic acid in food products as per the FDA is as follows:

CategoryUsage Level
Condiments and Relishes0.084%
Meat Products0.0061%

The maximum usage level of succinic acid in food products as per the EU Regulation on Food Additives is as follows:

CategoryUsage Level
Soups and Broths5000 mg/kg
Flavored Fermented Milk Products, Including Heat-Treated Products6000 mg/kg
Flavored Drinks3000 mg/kg
Other3000 mg/kg
Desserts6000 mg/kg

Fun Facts About Succinic Acid

  • Succinic acid is also known as the “Spirit of Amber.” When it was first discovered, it was extracted from amber by pulverizing and distilling it using a sand bath. It was primarily used externally for rheumatic aches and pains.
  • Succinic acid is biodegradable, making it environmentally friendly and reducing its impact on ecosystems.

Additional Resources