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Could sour be the new sweet?

April 09 2014

Let's be honest - the idea of sucking a lemon doesn't exactly appeal. 

However, the Globe and Mail reports that citric acid could be a useful weapon in a chef's arsenal as this flavour grows in popularity. 

The white powder has become renowned for its ability to anti-bacterialize, preserve and stabilize foods. It prevents fruit and vegetables from oxidizing and turning brown in the time from being harvested to eaten. 

It's regularly found in teas, fizzy drinks, fruit juices and jams, and occurs naturally in substances like pineapples, limes and gooseberries. 

Owner and chef of gastronomic cafe and patisserie Art is in Bakery Kevin Mathieson is one of those who has been hailing the properties of citric acid.

"It gives everything a bright, zesty taste. It also preserves the fruit's natural colour," the chef says, whose eaterie came first place in Ottawa Magazine's Best Restaurant in 2012. 

He first used the substance in 2000 and will regularly use it along with icing sugar and salt, and then sprinkle this mixture over orange peel or wild blueberries, before the fruit is dried out for the week. 

Courtesy of a coffee grinder, this becomes the powder that's added to marmalade, sprinkled over creme fraiche or implanted into the jelly to make a chocolate truffle. 

He added how, in terms of flavours, sour was no longer unappealing or something to be avoided. Citing examples such as artisan sourdough breads and sour beer, this is a trend that seems to be permeating across North America as diners look for foods that have a sharp, acrid bite to them.

Cuisines from overseas are especially popular with consumers over here, especially Asian and Mexican foods, which definitely do not shy away from such tangy flavours.

"Look at the tamarind in pad Thai. It's got those same sour qualities as citric acid," he noted. 

Owner and chef of Campognolo in Vancouver Robert Belcham capitalises on the flavour potential created by the acid. He frequently cooks nuts in it, along with simple syrup, butter, salt and two kinds of chili. 

Talking about its potential, he said: "It's a chef's tool. First, you taste sweet and nutty, then a bit of sour as you chew and it finishes with salt and heat. It transforms the way the dish plays out in your mouth."

Citric acid is used to spice up the flavour of a berry sorbet that has a low acid quantity by chef Rob Gentile, at Bar Buca in Toronto.

He cited the fact you can add the substance when you want bitterness but don't want to pour a liquid in. "We add lemon juice at the end so we can control the flavour," he explained. 

Chef de cuisine of catering at the Storys Building in Toronto Carlotte Langley shared a recipe with the paper that is a Greek vinaigrette, made up of citric acid among other things. 

She said it was "super zingy and coats everything without being too wet", and required 500 ml of olive oil, 250 ml of feta liquid, 2 tbsp dry oregano, 1 tbsp fresh oregano, 1 tsp of citric acid and a pinch of pepper. 

The mixture simply needs to be blended on high power until smooth and does not require any salt for additional seasoning.