Citric acid is a naturally occurring acid which is found in large quantities in fruits – notably citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and certain berries. It is a relatively weak acid and has a distinct, sour taste. It is an integral part of the Krebs cycle and therefore plays an essential role in the metabolism of all living things. The acid was first produced from citrus fruits but this technique was inefficient and only produced small quantities. Today, specific strains of the mold Aspergillus niger are used in the industrial production of the citric acid via a fermentation process. The acid can be found in both liquid and powder (anhydrous) form and is readily available online or in food stores.
Role in Food Industry
It is widely used in the food industry as an additive because of its low price and its ease of production. The acid is declared safe to consume by all major government food regulatory bodies. When added to food products or beverages, the acid provides a sharp, sour taste which increases appetite and enhances flavor. Certain companies use it to give their food products, such as sweets and soft drinks, an authentic “fruity” flavor. It is most prevalent in sour candies and gummy bears in the form of a fine white powder, also known as “sour salt”. Some people specifically add it to their food to alter taste. Besides its use as an additive, the citric acid is also commonly used as a natural food preservative. By increasing acidity, the low pH conditions produced prevent bacterial and fungal growth, therefore prolonging the life of the food or drink. It also helps preserve flavor and maintains pH at a suitable level to prevent food degradation, especially canned food. The acid is also heavily used in the preparation and production of Vitamin C as a flavoring. Note that citric acid and vitamin C (ascorbic acid) are two completely different substances.
In Skin Care Products and Detergents
This acid is also commonly found in various natural skin products. It is added to adjust the pH level of creams, lotions and gels to coincide with our natural skin pH level. When topically applied to the skin, it acts as an antioxidant, which helps conceal signs of aging. The acid also exfoliates the skin by removing dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin, thus encouraging new cell growth. Since it is a naturally occurring substance, it rarely causes an allergic reaction and is suitable for most skin types. In detergents, shampoos and soap, it is added so that foam is more easily produced. It also increases the efficiency of these products as it helps dissolve stains more quickly. This acid is favored over other additives because it is environmentally friendly, biodegradable and is relatively harmless.
Possible Side Effects
While it is generally safe, side effects do occur if an excess of the acid was used or consumed. Some of these side effects include stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. People with sensitive skin should avoid using creams containing citric acid as it may cause irritation or a rash to form. The acid is also believed to erode the tooth enamel when consumed frequently, which leads to an increased susceptibility of tooth decay, infections and other various complications. If you experience any adverse effects after coming into contact with citric acid, immediately consult a medical professional.