You might read the words “potassium lactate” on the ingredients list of some of the foods you eat and guess that it is added to fortify the product with potassium – an essential mineral. But the mineral salt known as potassium lactate is added to your food for reasons other than concern over your nutritional needs.
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Dietary Potassium and Potassium Lactate
Dietary potassium occurs in numerous foods such as bananas, almonds and molasses. Nutritional supplements offer different potassium salts, such as chloride, citrate, gluconate, bicarbonate, aspartate and orotate. Potassium lactate is also a potassium salt, but it not commonly used as a nutritional supplement.
According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, potassium lactate is a white odorless solid that attracts water from the air. Its molecular formula is C3H5KO3 and its molecular weight is 128.17. It is prepared by using a chemical called potassium hydroxide to neutralize lactic acid. Chemical synonyms for this substance include potassium alpha-hydroxypropionate, monopotassium 2-hydroxypropanoate acid and 2-Hydroxypropionic acid.
Potassium lactate is added to foods as a flavor agent and enhancer. The FDA states that it is also a humectant, meaning that it helps foods retain water and keeps them moist longer. Potassium lactate also helps maintain the acid levels in food.
In addition to use as a food preservative and flavor enhancer, potassium lactate is used in applications unrelated to food. It is an extinguishing media and is used in fire suppressant materials. It also serves as a leather-preserving treatment to buffer the effects of acids that can be present in air pollution and leather manufacturing chemicals.
When used as part of an extinguishing media, potassium lactate may cause irritation of exposed to your eyes and skin. According to the FDA, when used as a food additive at normal levels, potassium lactate is generally recognized as safe. It has not been authorized for use in infant foods or infant formulas. When used as a leather preservative, it can cause blackening or whitish discolorations if not applied properly.