Foods that contain lactic acid include meat, pickled foods and dairy products, and it is used as an additive in drinks, candies and some baked goods. Lactic acid tends to enhance savory flavors or imparts a mild, acidic flavor to foods.
A clear, thick liquid, lactic acid is naturally produced by animals and is also a by-product of bacterial processes. In fact, lactic acid bacteria in the gut help break down many of the foods people and other animals eat. Pickled foods get much of their flavor and longevity from the lactic acid that bacteria produce during the fermenting process. Subsequently, this acid is present in pickles, olives, pickled onions and fermented foods like yogurt, kefir and kombucha.
Commercial producers use carbohydrates from corn, beets and cane sugar to create lactic acid through fermentation. The lactic acid is processed and sold for use as an additive in other foods. For instance, it is used as a preservative in candies, salads and salad dressings and on meats. The acid also acts as an acid regulator in soda and fruit juice. Additionally, when used in candy and gum, lactic acid helps to reduce stickiness and improves the overall quality of the confection.