What is citric acid?
Citric acid is a naturally occurring compound in some foods and an artificially made additive used in many processed foods.
Where does citric acid occur naturally?
Citric acid occurs naturally in citrus fruits (especially lemons and limes), pineapple, and in smaller amounts in berries (lingonberry, currants, cranberry, strawberry, raspberry, mulberry, blueberry) (1, 2, 3)
How is citric acid made?
Citric acid is produced via fermentation.
Certain species of mold (Aspergillus niger – the same black mold that grows on bread) or yeast (like Candida) ferment sugary material (usually beet or corn or cane sugar, molasses, or cornstarch) in solution to create citric acid.
Then the fungus or yeast is filtered out and the citric acid is precipitated and filtered out of solution (4).
While citric acid can also be isolated from citrus fruits and pineapple, today, more than 99% of the world’s citric acid is produced via fermentation (5).
What is citric acid usually used for?
Citric acid is usually added to food products for the following purposes (5):
- Helps control pH to prolong shelf life.
- Adds a pleasant tart taste to fruit-flavored products, especially beverages.
- Makes antimicrobials more effective.
- Extends the shelf-life of fish and shellfish.
- Prevents frozen fruit from changing color & taste.
What types of foods/products is it typically used in?
- Frozen food products, especially fruit, fish, shellfish, sorbet, and ice cream (6)
- Canned foods, like canned tomatoes.
- Jams/preserves, applesauce, etc.
- Sodas and juices
- It may also be used in personal care products like makeup, chemical peels, or bath bombs, as well as in some detergents, cleaning supplies, and medications.
Is citric acid bad for you?
Citric acid is not bad for you and is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA.
There have been reports of citric acid causing canker sores, atopic dermatitis, and gastrointestinal symptoms in some people, but these adverse reactions are not common (7, 8).
Some people may avoid synthetic citric acid if they are extremely mold or yeast sensitive or extremely corn/beet/cane sugar sensitive since those items are used in the production of citric acid (although they are filtered out and shouldn’t be a problem for most.)
Erica is a registered dietitian nutritionist and lover of science and learning. She has a never-ending passion for education, and gladly spends her time writing & growing this blog! When she’s not at the computer, she can be found in the kitchen with her family, rocking out to good music and cooking up a storm.