The Corny Truth Series: Citric Acid


You know, I never paid much attention to citric acid on food ingredient labels. I always just assumed it came from citrus fruits, such as lemons or limes, since the name implies as much. Then I realized I am allergic to corn, and learned all about what all corn is hiding in – and lo and behold, there it was listed on the corn allergen list as a possible culprit. I say “possible” because it isn’t always derived from corn. Sometimes they go the extra mile and use actual citrus fruit, and if so, they usually will say so on the label.

So, what is this citric acid business? It is a natural preservative most commonly occurring in citrus fruits which is used as a preservative or for flavoring many foods and beverages, and can often be found as a buffering and/or chelation agent in cleaning products, cosmetics and other toiletry items, as well as some pharmaceuticals. When combined with sodium bicarbonate, it creates a nice bubbly effervescence, which is why you will find in in most fizzy beverages and in certain effervescent tablets used for indigestion.

Why did they start deriving this from corn instead of the real deal? Well, short answer: cheaper and easier to mass produce.

This is what Wikipedia taught me about the origin:

It all started back in 1917 when a certain “James Currie discovered that certain strains of the mold Aspergillus niger could be efficient citric acid producers, and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer began industrial-level production using this technique two years later, followed by Citrique Belge in 1929.

In this production technique, which is still the major industrial route to citric acid used today, cultures of A. niger are fed on a sucrose or glucose-containing medium to produce citric acid. The source of sugar is corn steep liquor, molasses, hydrolyzed corn starch or other inexpensive sugary solutions. After the mold is filtered out of the resulting solution, citric acid is isolated by precipitating it with calcium hydroxide to yield calcium citrate salt, from which citric acid is regenerated by treatment with sulfuric acid, as in the direct extraction from citrus fruit juice.”

Seems like way too many steps to me to make it a better alternative, but hey, I don’t mass produce anything so who am I to judge?

One other thing to note, which I have touched on in other blog posts, is the origin of the corn that they use to produce this stuff. Notice that the excerpt above says “inexpensive sugary solutions”. Well, that tells you right there that they aren’t going out of their way to find organic, non-GMO corn. So, when you are looking at organic food labels, and every single ingredient has a star or other symbol next to it noting that it is organic except for the last few ingredients, which is where you will usually find citric acid listed – now you know that it is not fully organic. Those last few items are usually always preservatives, as natural as they may sound, and they are hardly ever organic. Sometimes, though, you can get lucky and find products that don’t have it at all, or use lemon concentrate. Finding those particular items will usually always throw me into a fit of happiness, resulting in embarrassing public displays of excitement!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, scientist, or dietician. I am simply a person that suffers from gluten and corn intolerance that has learned a lot through constant research on the subjects. My purpose for sharing any information on this blog is to help inform others of what is in the food that they eat on a daily basis, and how these things have directly affected my health, in hopes to help others going through similar experiences. Only you know what your body can and cannot handle, and you should always listen to what it may be trying to tell you. Pay attention to everything that goes into your body, because what we eat can absolutely directly affect our overall health.


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