What is citric acid?

It is both a naturally occurring chemical in some foods, and an artificially made additive used in many processed foods.


Where does citric acid occur naturally?


How is citric acid made artificially?

It is made artificially when 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).


Why is citric acid added to foods and products?

  • Helps control pH to prolong shelf life (5).
  • 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.
  • Candy
  • 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.

Can you react to citric acid?

Yes! It is not considered common (citric acid is GRAS – generally recognized as safe by the FDA), but there have been reports of citric acid causing canker sores, atopic dermatitis, and GI symptoms (7, 8).

Anecdotally, some people who are corn-sensitive (per MRT) have reported reacting to citric acid in applesauce.

May want to avoid synthetic citric acid if someone is extremely mold or yeast sensitive or extremely corn/beet/cane sugar sensitive (used in the production of citric acid).

Erica Julson Functional Nutrition Library

Erica Julson is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in sunny California. She has over a decade of experience in food writing and recipe development and is the proud founder of four blogs in the food and nutrition space. Erica has also been part of Healthline's Nutrition Team and is an expert at translating research into helpful information for readers.

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