Learning About Lactart

The Urban Dictionary definition of "lactart" paints a very different picture of what this chemical actually is: "A hot chick who is lactose intollerant [sic]." Ah, Internet.

But a few days ago, I wouldn't have known that Lactart existed (or that it wasn't a lactose intolerant woman) if it weren't for Cafe Luz. Because it's looking as if August will see 100 degree temperatures every day of the month, it's not the coffee that's attractive at Cafe Luz right now. It's the handmade sodas from the sunny soda fountain, where Frank Freeman made me a vanilla cream Lactart this past Saturday afternoon.

Those who enjoy the pleasantly sour taste of certain Lambics or -- if you're my grandparents -- of buttermilk will have already tasted what Lactart can do. The solution itself was created in the 1880s when the Avery Chemical Company was looking to duplicate lactic acid, the compound that gives Lambics, buttermilk, cottage cheese, kefir and other sour milk products their signature sour tastes.

Modern research suggests that it's lactate -- not glucose -- that our brains use as energy and that "lactic acid buildup" causing muscle soreness is nothing more than an old wives' tale. In fact, lactic acid is a crucial source of energy for athletes.

So it should come as no surprise that Lactart was marketed as a health tonic -- to be mixed with nothing more than water and sugar -- when it was first introduced, with Avery making claims that Lactart was "Indorsed [sic] by the Highest Medical Authority." Lactart was said to relieve "Dyspepsia, Biliousness, Nervous Depression, Wakefulness, Headache and ills arising from a disordered Stomach."

I'm not sure about Biliousness, but lactate itself is used in intravenous fluids such as Lactated Ringer's solution that help assist with fluid resuscitation after major blood loss. So maybe Avery wasn't too far off with its old Lactart ads.

Either way, Lactart went the way of the dodo along with other, slightly more well-known additives like acid phosphate when soda fountains were killed off in the 1950s by Walgreens and Dairy Queens. (It's true.) And even Freeman, who's been happily unearthing old soda fountain ingredients since starting up Cafe Luz with co-owners Lucrece Borrego and Jesus Acosta, had never heard of the stuff until his acid phosphate distributor threw in a small bottle of Lactart with his last shipment.

"The first taste is free," Freeman cracked on Saturday. He's already hooked on the stuff, and only had enough left for one drink when I happened to come in. He jerked a vanilla cream soda, sputtering from the fountain, and added the Lactart.

As promised, the drink was both creamy and sweet, with black flecks of vanilla dotting the surface of the soda. But the Lactart added a different layer to it entirely, providing a softly sour edge that was tart and refreshing, especially on a 100 degree day.

Art of Drink claims that in its heyday, Lactart was such a popular ingredient that Lactarts became their own class of drinks at the soda fountain. After trying one at Cafe Luz, it's easy to see why. And yes, they plan to order more.

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