Acid Phosphate may have been all the rage during they heyday of the soda fountain but that didn’t mean it was the only alternative beverage acidulent. There were actually a number of competitors, most of them trying to cash in on Acid Phosphates popularity. Some used hydrochloric acid, a not so great drinking option. Another one was called Lactart and it was a much better option for consumption because it was made from lactic acid. It was popular enough that Lactarts became a class of drink at the soda counter.
Lactart was introduced in the early 1880s when the Avery Lactart Company patented a method for creating lactic acid. It wasn’t a very pure form of lactic acid, but it was sufficient for drinks and was said to be good for ones health.
There is some truth in the health benefit of lactic acid. Many dairy products, like yogurt and butter milk, contain lactic acid and they are often associated with healthy eating. In the 1800s buttermilk was considered a very refreshing, and cooling drink, consumed by farmers and labourers. For many people today, buttermilk is still as refreshing as a glass of lemonade.
Approximately 30 million kilograms (72 million pounds) of Lactic acid is produced in the US yearly and is primarily used as a food additive for things like yogurt, buttermilk, beer, sauerkraut, green olives, pickles, and other acidic foods. The salts of lactic acid (lactates) are also used as flavour enhancers in food. They can even be found in products like Pringles potato chips (sour cream and onion). Many Lambic style beers have naturally high lactic acid levels, which gives these beers their unique characteristic.
The reason lactic acid is used in a wide range of products is that it provides a milder, some say smoother, sour flavour. This less aggressive sour flavour works great in cocktails because there isn’t a need to use excess sugar to balance the tartness. It also doesn’t have that citric acid tang, but it’s not as flavourless as Acid Phosphate. Overall it is very pleasant.
Is it safe?
Lactic acid is quite safe for human consumption and many people consume it on a daily basis in the form of yogurt and buttermilk. The lactic acid content of buttermilk is approximately 1%. You can also buy “;facial peels” which are up to 70% lactic acid and rub that over your face “;for younger smoother skin”. Lactart is approximately 10% lactic acid, so once diluted in a drink it would be similar to buttermilk.
Does it make everything taste like yogurt?
No. Lactart does have a mildly familiar taste though, but doesn’t contain any dairy fat or lactose sugar, so it won’t make everything taste like a dairy product. However, it does work exceptionally well with dairy based drinks.
Using it in drinks.
You can use Lactart anywhere you would use lemon or lime juice. However, since it is a milder acid, it tends to work better in cocktails that need a mild sour flavour. But the idea of making a Lactart Gin Fizz or Whisky Lactart (whisky sour with Lactart instead of lemon juice) is compelling, but you might need to use a bit more Lactart to get the desired flavour, but the options are wide open. And don’t stop there, you can also cook with it.
Just like Acid Phosphate, Lactart is an old ingredient whose time has come for a revival. You can order bottles through Art of Drink. Or better yet you can grab a Soda Kit that includes a bottle of Acid Phosphate, Lactart and a copy of Fix the Pumps.
Andd if that wasn’t enough, let the words of Eben Freeman’s bartending compatriot guide your way: “Citrus is for Pussies”.
Writer, author of Fix the Pumps, chemist, beekeper and general do-er-of-things, Darcy can generally be found looking for new and interesting things to do, usually over a cocktail. Currently working on more soda fountain history.