Tartaric acid is an organic acid that has wide applications, including as an acidulant in the food and drinks industry and in pharmaceuticals. It has particular importance in the winemaking process. It exists in several forms with L(+)-tartaric acid being the form that is used commercially.
Naturally present in grapes and certain other fruits, tartaric acid can be obtained from waste products of the winemaking industry. Additionally it can also be produced synthetically using maleic anhydride, which is made from petrochemicals. Synthetic tartaric acid is cheaper than the natural and is increasingly being used in various applications. According to financial services company IHS Markit, synthetic tartaric acid had about 50% market share in 2016 compared with only 30% in 2006. As consumers are placing increasing value on plant-derived products, therefore being able to back up “natural” claims is crucial.
There are cases when verifying the tartaric acid used is not a petrochemical synthetic has an even greater significance.
The European Union regulates the source of tartaric acid used in winemaking, stating that any L(+)-tartaric acid used must be extracted from wine products and be of agricultural origin (Commission Regulation (EC) No 606/2009, Appendix 2).
Under the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Organic Agriculture’s CAN/CGSB-32.311, Organic Production Systems – Permitted Substances Lists, synthetic tartaric acid can be used as a food additive in beverages if the non-synthetic (natural) form is not commercially available. However, if used in processing aids for beverages, tartaric acid should only be from non-synthetic sources. Processing aids is defined under CAN/CGSB-32.310-2015 as substances added to food during processing, for a technological effect, but are not present in the finished product or at insignificant and non-functional levels.
In the U.S., the Department of Agriculture (USDA) removed synthetic tartaric acid from the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for use in organic crop production. Since November 2013, only tartaric acid made from grape wine can be used as ingredient in or on processed products labeled as “organic” or “made with organic”.
Carbon-14 testing is able to distinguish between plant-based natural products and petrochemical-sourced products. Naturally sourced products will have a known amount of Carbon-14, whereas products made from petrochemicals do not contain Carbon-14.
In the context of tartaric acid, Carbon-14 natural product testing shows what percentage of the product tested is naturally sourced. This makes it an ideal method for determining whether the tartaric acid being used was produced from petrochemicals or natural sources, and is especially applicable to the EU winemaking industry. Carbon-14 analysis is not able to distinguish between different natural sources of tartaric acid.
Beta Analytic is an ISO/IEC 17025:2005 accredited radiocarbon analysis laboratory that reports results for natural product testing according to two international standards – ASTM D6866 or ISO 16620-2 8.3.2: biobased carbon content as a fraction of total organic carbon (TOC) or total carbon (TC). Results are provided in 5-7 business days by the Miami-based lab. A priority service is available for results required in 4 business days or less. For inquiries, contact Beta Analytic or call a local forwarding office.
Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Permitted Substances List CAN/CGSB-32.311-2006. (accessed August 2017)
Commission Regulation (EC) No 606/2009 laying down certain detailed rules for implementing Council Regulation (EC) No 479/2008 as regards the categories of grapevine products, oenological practices and the applicable restrictions. 2009. OJ L 193/1–59.
ICF International. 2011. Tartaric Acid: Technical Evaluation Report. Available at https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic/national-list/t (accessed June 2017).
IHS Markit. 2017. Chemical Economics Handbook: Tartaric Acid. Available at https://ihsmarkit.com/products/tartaric-acid-chemical-economics-handbook.html (accessed June 2017).
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Final Rule pertaining to the 2013 Sunset Review of substances on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. Available at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=AMS-NOP-11-0003-3193 (accessed August 2017)
Last Updated: August 31, 2017