Sodium benzoate is a kind of salt. It can be found in many foods, since it is used as a preservative. However, it is not frequently used as a flavoring, since too much can give the food and drinks a distinctly flavor. About 7 out of 10 people will detect sodium benzoate when it is added to food and drinks—especially sodas. It has been described as bitter; others describe it “sweet, but in a strange way.”
You may be able to taste sodium benzoate in foods to which it is added — approximately 75% of people can taste it. People who can taste sodium benzoate can describe it in different ways. Some call it bitter or salty while others think the taste is more on the sweet side. Since many of us drink soft drinks on a regular basis, we are fairly used to tasting this preservative and generally think nothing of it.
Sodium benzoate helps preserve food because of its high levels of acid. It can eliminate bacteria, yeast and fungi that can cause disease or “rot.” It can also be used in the wine fermentation process.
However, sodium benzoate is best used with foods within a particular pH level: 3.6 or below. That is why it is combined with vinegar, soda or fruit juice.
Sodium benzoate can be made artificially, but it is also found naturally in some fruits and spices. These include apples, cranberries, plums, cinammon and cloves. However, naturally occurring sodium benzoate does not act as a preservative.