Sorbic acid, or 2,4-hexadienoic acid, is a natural organic compound used as a food preservative. It has the chemical formula C6H8O2. It is a colourless solid that is slightly soluble in water and sublimes readily. It was first isolated from the unripe berries of the rowan tree , hence its name.
Sorbic acid and its salts, such as sodium sorbate, potassium sorbate, and calcium sorbate, are antimicrobial agents often used as preservatives in food and drinks to prevent the growth of mold, yeast, and fungi. In general the salts are preferred over the acid form because they are more soluble in water, but the active form is the acid. The optimal pH for the antimicrobial activity is below pH 6.5. Sorbates are generally used at concentrations of 0.025% to 0.10%. Adding sorbate salts to food will, however, raise the pH of the food slightly so the pH may need to be adjusted to assure safety. It is found in many other foods, such as cheeses and breads.
Some molds and yeasts are able to detoxify sorbates by decarboxylation, producing trans-1,3-pentadiene. The pentadiene manifests as a typical odor of kerosene or petroleum. Other detoxification reactions include reduction to 4-hexenol and 4-hexenoic acid.
Sorbic acid can also be used as an additive for cold rubber, and as an intermediate in the manufacture of some plasticizers and lubricants.