There have been a couple of comments about the widespread use of E300 in Czech beer, both here (in a comment from Max Bahnson on the post about Czech beer as a protected name) and from David over at Beer Oh Beer (where Max again casts his vote against it). Nothing more than ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, E300 is added as a preservative as well as to prevent the development of haze in beer.
I can understand people might want their favorite beverage to include no food additives whatsoever, but I also appreciate the use of vitamin C in my beer instead of, say, E211, also known as sodium benzoate, a preservative believed to potentially damage mitochondrial DNA, cause premature aging and possibly even cause Parkinson’s disease. (E300 it is!)
In fact, quite a few Czech beer labels show E300 on the back, including some of the very best — the one above is from Herold’s absolutely outstanding Bohemian Black Lager. But how much E300 are brewers allowed to put in your favorite bottle? The answer might surprise you.
Drumroll, please… According to EU regulations, there is no maximum amount of E300 that can be added to a beer. Nor is there any stated limit on any of the following:
E270, lactic acid
E301, sodium ascorbate
E330, citric acid
E414, acacia gum
For all of these E’s, the regulatory principle involved is one of quantum satis, meaning that there is no maximum specified. (The phrase can be parsed as “however much is needed.”) In regulatory terms, that might not be terribly reassuring. But in the case of vitamin C, it’s hard to imagine that even a high dosage would be anything other than beneficial.
Here’s a link for a PDF of Directive 95/2/EC, which regulated the amounts of food additives other than colors and sweeteners in the European Union.
Here’s a link for a PDF of Directive 2003/114/EC, which amends Directive 95/2/EC.
If you search through the documents, you’ll find that EU regulations also allow:
100 milligrams per liter of E405, propane-1, 2-diol alginate (propylene glycol alginate) in beer
1 gram per liter of E1520, propan-1, 2-diol (propylene glycol) in all beverages
200 milligrams per liter of E210 (benzoic acid), E211 (sodium benzoate), E212 (potassium benzoate) and E213 (calcium benzoate) in kegged alcohol-free beer
In addition, there are many weird E-numbers that are allowed to appear in all foodstuffs, not just beer. Go on, read it, but don’t open the file if you’re about to eat. It’s sure to put you off your lunch.
So if vitamin C is all we’re up against, I think I’m okay with it. I haven’t heard if ascorbic acid can affect the taste of beer, but I would imagine that it might contribute to the slight citric finish in some Czech brews, especially Czech dark lagers, which are hopped at much lower rates than Pilsner-style beers, and thus might need another natural preservative like ascorbic acid to stay good longer.
Here’s my final thought: vitamin C is an essential nutrient for life on earth. Many organisms synthesize it internally, though humans, of course, do not. It helps our bodies to neutralize free radicals. It helps protect our cells from oxidative stress. It helps our bodies absorb iron from food and is believed to reduce the risk of stroke. But more importantly: if a beer with a bit of added vitamin C can taste as good as Herold’s Bohemian Black Lager, how could it possibly be bad?