What Is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is a common food additive that is found in citrus fruits. It is also used as a preservative and an antioxidant. It is a chemical compound and the main component of citrates.

Citric acid is one of the most prevalent food additives in today’s food supply, yet it remains a mystery chemical for many of us. Citric acid has been used as a preservative and taste enhancer in foods, cosmetics, and various other goods in certain nations for over a century. But, given how often you’re likely to come across it, you may be wondering whether it’s an ingredient to avoid or if it has any health advantages.

Where do you look for citric acid? Citrus fruits (particularly lemons and limes) and a range of packaged/processed foods, especially those with an acidic or sour flavor, contain it. Prepackaged fruits and vegetables, canned or jarred meals, hummus, salsa, chicken stock, certain yogurts and cheeses, baked products and sweets, soft drinks, beer, and wine contain citric acid. In addition, many cosmetics, cleaning, and industrial goods include it, including laundry detergent, kitchen cleansers, dyes, and chemical solvents.

When you consume citric acid, what happens? It enters your circulation and ultimately reaches your urine, where it reduces the acidity of your urine. Antioxidant, alkalizing, and anti-inflammatory effects have also been shown. However, individuals with delicate digestive systems, acid reflux, allergies, or sensitive skin may find it unpleasant.

The most excellent method to increase your intake of citrus acid is to eat more fruits and vegetables every day, particularly those of the citrus type (lemons, limes, oranges, etc.). Lemons and limes are among the most alkalizing foods we can consume daily, and they have a lot more to give than just citric acid.

What Is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is a popular culinary ingredient and chemical found naturally in citrus fruits and drinks. However, we don’t need it for our meals. Therefore it’s regarded as a weak organic acid but not an essential vitamin or mineral. It may be naturally occurring, such as the kind found in plants, or it can be created in a laboratory.

Sugar is given to the fungus Aspergillus niger, a standard black mold, to synthesize citric acid, utilized in most mass-produced processed goods. Sugars, such as cane sugar, beet sugar, or corn syrup, are “fed” to the fungus and then combined with additional substances such as ammonium nitrate, potassium phosphate, magnesium sulfate, and zinc sulfate. Citric acid is produced during fermentation over six to fifteen days. Since the 1920s, when microbial production of the acid began on a commercial scale, this method has been used.

Citric acid is a component of the tricarboxylic acid or Krebs cycle as an organic acid. It is produced by oxidative metabolic processes and may be present in all animal tissues. Citrate is now made from citric acid, a salt or ester used to treat various health problems.

Citric acid is used for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Because of the capacity to keep components stable, meals and drinks may be preserved.
  • Foods/drinks with citrus or sour taste
  • As a chelating agent, it aids in the preservation of food texture.
  • Adding scent to cosmetics and cleaning supplies
  • As a pH stabilizer and alkalizing agent
  • Assisting with ingredient buffering
  • Working as a cleaning and degreasing solvent
  • By chelating calcium in the blood, it acts as an anticoagulant.


Is it safe to eat citric acid? Citric acid is “listed as not anticipated to be potentially hazardous or damaging and categorized as a low human health priority,” according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Furthermore, according to the FDA, it has a “Food Additive Status” of “recognized as safe for general or particular, restricted use in food,” Citric acid seems to pose few hazards when consumed or applied to the skin, and it is widely used in most nations, including the United States.

Citric Acid’s Potential Benefits

  1. Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant Properties — Citric acid has been found to have antioxidant effects in certain studies, suggesting that it may aid in the prevention of oxidative stress (or free radical damage). For example, researchers looked at the link between citric acid and endotoxin-induced oxidative stress in the brain and liver in mice in a 2014 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food. As a result, citric acid was shown to reduce brain lipid peroxidation and inflammation, liver damage, and DNA breakage in mice when oxidative stress was injected into their brains and livers. In addition, studies have shown citric acid to help reduce lipid peroxidation and inflammation by decreasing cell degranulation and inhibiting the production of inflammatory chemicals such as myeloperoxidase, elastase interleukin, and platelet factor 4.
  2. Has an alkalizing effect on the body — Despite its acidic flavor, citric acid is considered an alkalizing chemical, which means it may assist in offsetting the impact of consuming a lot of acidic meals, such as meat and processed grains. In addition, alkaline meals include more alkaline-forming minerals, including potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium, manganese, and iron, which may aid mineral absorption.
  3. Enhances Endothelial Function —  It is a thin membrane that coats the interior of the heart and blood vessels and helps with vascular relaxation and contraction, blood clotting, immunological function, and platelet aggregation. This seems to be accomplished via lowering inflammatory indicators. In addition, Citrates, which are salts of citric acid, may be employed as anticoagulants (also known as blood thinners) because of their calcium-chelating properties.
  4. Kidney Stones May Be Prevented — When a person’s urine is very acidic, kidney stones are more prone to form. “Citric acid is protective; the more citric acid in your urine, the more protected you are against developing new kidney stones,” according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Hospital Metabolic Stone Clinic. Citric acid and potassium citrate are alkalinizing medicines that make the urine less acidic and treat gout, kidney stones, and metabolic acidosis in individuals who have kidney issues. In addition, citric acid coats tiny rocks and prevents debris from adhering to them, preventing them from becoming more giant “problem stones.”
  5. Can Help With Skincare — What is the effect of citric acid on the skin? It’s an alpha hydroxy acid used in certain cosmetics and personal care products to balance acidity or stimulate skin regeneration and peeling. Specific anti-aging treatments, such as serums, masks, and night creams, include it. In addition, it’s a well-known antioxidant that may help protect skin from photoaging, environmental damage, and oxidative stress.

Side Effects and Risks

Why is it possible that citric acid is detrimental to the body? While there is some worry that artificial citric acid may have some damaging health consequences, mainly when eaten in high quantities from packaged goods, there is no strong evidence from extensive research linking this acid to health problems. The following adverse effects, however, may occur.

  1. Citric acid used in skin/beauty products may irritate certain people’s skin, particularly those with sensitive skin. In addition, it has the potential to irritate nasal passages and cause asthma symptoms when used in cleaning products.
  2. Artificial citric acid is often manufactured using GMO ingredients, such as sugars from beets and maize, which are likely to be genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
  3.  Just because you have low stomach acid doesn’t mean you have to avoid acidic meals and drinks. After digestion, acidic foods such as lemons, limes, and tomatoes have an alkalizing impact on the body, which starts sour but becomes more alkaline. Acidic foods do not cause problems like acid reflux or ulcers, although they may induce heartburn, GERD, or acid reflux symptoms in specific individuals. Low stomach acid may indicate a lack of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), which can be helped by eating a variety of cooked and raw vegetables, increasing magnesium, potassium, fiber, and antioxidants, and avoiding processed foods, refined grains, added sugars, excessive alcohol or caffeine, and foods with additives.
  4.  While studies haven’t conclusively proven that Aspergillus-derived citric acid is hazardous, some people are concerned that inhaling it may lead to decreased immunological function, allergies, and other adverse effects. In most cases, the type of Aspergillus utilized to produce the acid (Aspergillus niger) does not seem deadly or poisonous. However, individuals with compromised immune systems may benefit from limiting their exposure.


What foods and drinks have the most citric acid? It is mainly concentrated in the following areas:

  • Lemons and limes, as well as their juices, are citrus fruits and juices.
  • Oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines are examples of citrus fruits that contain citric acid.
  • To a lesser extent, Citric acid is found in pineapple/pineapple juice and berries such as strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, and cranberries.

Fresh lemon and lime juice are the most natural method to get extra citric acid from meals alone (rather than supplements). However, even though both are good sources of citric acid, they won’t give as much as pharmaceutical items with high citric acid/citrate dosages. Potassium citrate, for example, is occasionally offered as a kidney stone therapy.

You would ingest approximately the same quantity of citric acid present in certain pharmaceutical goods if you drank one half-cup (4 ounces) of pure lemon juice each day (or 32 ounces of lemonade made with this amount of lemon juice).

Traditional Medical Applications

What is the purpose of citric acid in traditional medicine? Acidic foods (such as lemon, lime, garlic, vinegar, sour cream, yogurt, and fermented meals) and substances are considered “Pitta-aggravating foods” in Ayurveda, which may irritate the stomach when consumed in large quantities while also balancing the Vata dosha. As a result, some people are advised to limit their intake of vinegar, tomatoes, sour citrus fruits, orange juice, salsa, yogurt (except lassi), onions, garlic, chili peppers, and alcohol if they find them irritating while increasing their intake of acidic foods if they require more energy and “fire.”

The main components of sour/bitter meals, according to Ayurveda, are Earth and fire, and they have a liquid, light, greasy, hot/heating impact on digestion. Therefore, they may assist in enhancing positive emotions like appreciation and understanding while decreasing negative emotions like criticism, jealousy, and hatred. In addition, sour meals are thought to help the lungs through moistening, demulcent, and laxative actions and encourage healthy bile flow.

The “transformations of energy,” or five tastes of foods, are believed to provide the most gratifying and nutritionally rich meals in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and spicy are the five flavors. Organs are believed to be linked to each flavor in TCM; a tiny amount of a specific taste may enhance an organ system, while too much of it might damage it. For example, the spring season and the “wood element” are linked with sour flavors. Sour-tasting foods (sourdough bread, vinegar, wheat, sauerkraut, and lemon/limes) are refreshing and help digestion by influencing the liver and gallbladder.

Ascorbic Acid vs. Malic Acid vs. Phosphoric Acid vs. Citric Acid

  • Acids like citric acid, lactic acid, malic acid, oxalic acid, and ascorbic acid are responsible for the sour taste of some foods.
  • Another component present in citrus fruits and green vegetables is ascorbic acid, often known as vitamin C. It has antioxidant properties and has been proven to protect the eyes, skin, blood vessels, and connective tissue. Some individuals take ascorbic acid as a vitamin, either with or without food, one to two times per day.
  • Malic acid, like citric acid, is a sour acid that is used as a flavoring ingredient and a preservative in food. It may be found in certain fruits as well as wine. Malic acid is used in skincare products to help remove dead skin cells, and it may also be taken as a supplement to treat acne, warts, dry mouth, chronic discomfort or tiredness, and fibromyalgia.
  • Phosphoric acid gives soft drinks a tangy taste and inhibits mold and bacteria development in foods and beverages. Cola drinks, bottled and canned iced teas, bottled and canned coffee beverages, morning cereal bars, and non-dairy creamers include this chemical. In addition, phosphoric acid is extensively used in dentistry and orthodontics, for example, to clean and smooth the surfaces of teeth and to aid in the placement of fillings.

Lemon Juice vs. Citric Acid vs. Vinegar

Citric acid is used in recipes by chefs and bakers for several reasons, including providing a sour taste and highlighting other components. In addition, it may assist in balancing flavors and enhance the attractiveness of certain substances since it is a natural acid. Acid is a “core ingredient of balanced tastes (with sweet, salty, bitter, and umami). Therefore, it’s sort of essential in every dish,” according to an Epicurious article.

  • Is citric acid the same as vinegar, and if not, what’s the difference between the two? While both have an acidic flavor, they are not the same thing. Although it depends on the vinegar, citric acid is somewhat more acidic than most vinegar. Vinegar has a pH range of 2.4 to 3. The citric acid powder is used as a dry substitute for lemon juice or vinegar in dehydrated meals. Because it doesn’t contribute liquid or moisture, it’s utilized in spices, salts, flavoring powders, and crunchy snacks, for example.
  • Is citric acid, like vinegar, useful for cleaning? Will citric acid destroy bacteria? Like vinegar and lemon juice, Citric acid may be used to clean surfaces and equipment in your house. You may use it to clean your automated drip coffee machine or create a counter spray, for example. Cleaning, dissolving limescale, and cleaning dirty/greasy surfaces may all be done using mild acids like vinegar and lemon juice. However, bacteria cannot thrive in an acidic environment, which is why cleansers include caustic chemicals.
  • Many people prefer white vinegar combined with water over lemon juice as a practical option for natural cleaning. White vinegar is less expensive, lasts longer, is simple to make and add to a spray bottle, and leaves no sticky residue on surfaces. Mix the vinegar with water, add a few drops of lemon essential oil, and, if desired, fresh lemon juice, orange peel, and cinnamon to create a DIY natural cleanser with both powerful lemon and white vinegar.

Lemon juice has a pH of 2 to 2.6, making it highly acidic. Citric acid is present in lemon juice in the amount of 0.05 grams per milliliter. Is it possible to use lemon juice for citric acid in recipes? Citric acid and fresh lemon juice may be used in many same ways, such as making jams, jellies, sauces, or preserves from fruits or vegetables. For every 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid, use approximately 1/8 cup lemon juice. Citric acid and lemon juice are both used to decrease the pH of the substances, making them safe to store.

Alternatives and Recipes

Here are some natural methods to start eating more citric acid (the most significant natural sources are lemon and lime juice):

  • Fresh lemon or lime juice may be squeezed straight into the water, herbal tea, smoothies, diluted fruit juice, vegetable juices, tea, and other beverages. Before freezing, squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice into ice cube trays. You’ll have chilled juice cubes on hand to add to water this way. Drinking lots of water every day can help dilute your urine and avoid kidney stones.
  • Make a low-sugar lemonade or limeade at home. For every 16 ounces of water, use approximately 2 ounces (or 1/4 cup) of lemon juice. If you want to get the most significant health advantages, drink it twice a day, for a total of 4 ounces of fresh lemon juice each day. Add organic stevia or monk fruit extract to sweeten your lemonade without using much or any sugar. A tiny amount of raw honey may also be used.
  • Combine fresh lemon or lime juice, seltzer/club soda, and slices of your favorite fruit, such as oranges or grapefruit, to make a lemon or lime spritzer. Making a spritzer with fruit and seltzer is a beautiful way to slow down while drinking wine.
  • Salads, fruit salads, and sautéed veggies all benefit from a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Avocado, guacamole, hummus, spreads, sauces, and marinades all benefit from the addition of lemon juice. In addition, citric acid may help prevent cut fruits from oxidizing or browning, such as apples or pears. Some food photographers and chefs swear by spraying a combination of citric acid and water on the cut surfaces of pre-cut fruits and vegetables to prevent color alteration.
  • Use lemon, lime, or orange juice in marinades for fish or meats. Honey, herbs, and olive oil go nicely with these juices.
  • For dessert, make lemon curd or custard.
  • Add approximately a half teaspoon of citric acid to boost the sour, tangy taste of homemade sourdough bread recipes.
  • When preparing fresh cheeses like ricotta, paneer, or mozzarella, dissolve approximately 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid in 2 tablespoons of water. 2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar may be replaced for this.

TIP: To extract more juice from lemons or limes, roll them on a hard surface while pushing down with your hand, or heat them in the microwave for approximately 20 seconds before cutting into them.

What can you use as a citric acid substitute? As you’ve undoubtedly figured, vinegar and fresh lemon juice are the most OK substitutes for citric acid powder. But can you use citric acid instead of cream of tartar? Tartaric acid, often known as cream of tartar, is another sour-tasting substance, but it has a somewhat more robust flavor than citric acid. If you don’t have cream of tartar, you may substitute citric acid, but you may need to use a little more to achieve the taste you want.

Dosages, Supplements, and Medications

Citric acid is often used in nutritional supplements and vitamins because of its low pH, which aids mineral absorption and preserves.

Citric acid, potassium citrate, or sodium citrate should be given between or meals to avoid stomach or intestinal adverse effects. If you’re taking citrate as a liquid, combine it with at least four ounces of water or juice. To prevent taking too much of anything, always carefully read the instructions on any prescription or supplement label.

To receive the most significant advantage from increasing your citric acid consumption, you should increase your fluid intake and remain hydrated. Drink at least 10 eight-ounce glasses of water or other hydrating drinks each day, or even more if you’re highly active or the weather is scorching. Also, try to avoid eating high-sodium foods (those with a lot of salt) or adding a lot of salt to your meals.

Talk to your doctor about your medical history before taking citric acid, particularly if you have kidney illness, heart disease, high blood pressure, a history of heart attack, urinary difficulties, diabetes, swelling (edema), urination problems, or a stomach ulcer or persistent diarrhea. In addition, antacids, heart or blood pressure medicines, and diuretics may all interact with citric acid supplements and pharmaceuticals.


What are some of the possible side effects of citric acid that you should be aware of? It’s conceivable that ingesting excessive quantities of it may be hazardous. It may also cause skin irritation and allergic skin responses, eye irritation, possibly severe eye damage, and nose and throat irritation. Is it possible to be allergic to citric acid? Yes, when individuals touch the acid, they may have allergy or asthma symptoms and breathing difficulties.

Is it possible to die from too much citric acid? This acid is usually regarded as non-toxic. To have severe adverse effects, most individuals need to eat a considerable amount – far more than most meals. On the other hand, citric acid supplements and citrate medicines are causing more significant worry. Numbness or tingling sensations, swelling or rapid weight gain, muscular twitching or cramps, fast or slow heart rate, disorientation or mood changes, red or tarry stools, severe stomach discomfort, persistent diarrhea, seizures are all serious adverse effects of taking too much citrate.

If you experience heartburn or acid reflux, should you avoid citric acid? Low stomach acid, poor digestion, inflammation, and other factors may cause acid reflux/heartburn, caused by acidic digestive fluids rising from the stomach and going back into the esophagus. Reduce your intake of fatty, meaty meals, fast foods, processed cheeses, chocolate, alcohol, and caffeine to assist with acid reflux.

Spicy and acidic foods, such as tomatoes, tomato products, onions, citrus fruits, and citrus juice, may aggravate heartburn. While acidic meals aren’t typically the source of heartburn, you should avoid them until you’ve treated any other underlying problems. People, for example, proleptic ulcers or different GI sensitivities may be irritated by citric acid. Therefore they should consume it in moderation.

Last Thoughts

  • Citrus fruits (particularly lemons and limes) and a range of packaged/processed foods contain citric acid, especially those with an acidic or sour flavor. In addition, prepackaged fruits and vegetables, canned or jarred meals, hummus, salsa, chicken stock, certain yogurts and cheeses, baked products and sweets, soft drinks, beer, and wine contain citric acid.
  • Citric acid gives a sour/bitter taste to foods and beverages and is a preservative, emulsifier, pH balancer, aroma, cleaning solvent, and degreaser.
  • It’s available as a dry powder, a liquid, or a supplement or medicine called citrate.
  • What may be used as a substitute for citric acid in recipes? To achieve the same acidic impact and taste in cooking, use fresh lemon juice combined with water or a tiny amount of vinegar.
  • This acid has antioxidant, alkalizing, and anti-inflammatory properties, promoting skin health, preventing kidney stones, and enhancing endothelial function.
  • Is citric acid dangerous or detrimental in some instances? It’s generally safe, although it’s frequently produced with GMO chemicals in packaged goods and has been connected to mold and allergies when used; however, when a supplement, it may irritate the skin and digestive system and interfere with medicines.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is citric acid bad for you?

Citric acid is bad for you because it can cause diarrhea and heartburn.

What are the benefits of citric acid?

Citric acid is a sour substance that is found in citrus fruits. It has been used for many years to preserve food and can be used as a preservative or flavoring agent.

Where can citric acid be found?

Citric acid is a type of organic compound that is found in many fruits and vegetables. It is also an essential component of many foods, such as lemon juice, grapefruit juice, and orange juice.

Related Tags

  • how much citric acid to use as a preservative
  • is citric acid healthy
  • how much citric acid can kill you
  • is citric acid bad for your skin
  • how is citric acid produced

FDA Compliance

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)