I don’t usually go too deep in label reading. If there are ingredients on there that aren’t something I stock in my house I usually pass. Lately, this struck me as uninformed. If my goal is to be informed about the food I put in my body then that should mean that I also learn shy I am passing on certain ingredients. Without that, I am just following the hype of the latest article and going on blind faith that someone else is actually looking out for mine and my families best interests.
I started with citric acid because it is found in so many products and is frequently the only added ingredient I don’t know. Like something as simple as canned tomatoes. All the ingredients seem just like what I would do at home and then I come to citric acid. I have at least a dozen items in my pantry or fridge that list this as an ingredient and I keep buying them. Should I be?
What is citric acid
What is it seems like the best place to start. Citric acid comes from the juice of citrus fruits. It is extracted from them and turned into a white powder. This is what I have always kind of assumed. I mean citric acid sounds pretty self-explanatory after all. This next part shouldn’t come as a surprise but it does. The common citric acid you find today isn’t made from citrus. It is made from feeding a mold variety, A. niger, which is found on onion, grapes, and apricots.
It is like Halloween for the mold picked to make citric acid. It gets to be hopped up on sugar and then left to its own natural process to create the by-product citric acid. There are a few other steps in there and some chemicals added to complete the process, but that is gist. The mold used is referred to as black mold, but it is not the variety that you might find in your house that would, rightfully, cause panic.
I liked the idea of citric acid when I believed that it was from citrus. It made it seem like the same process as me putting lemon or lime juice on my guacamole to keep it from turning brown. Knowing that it isn’t as natural as I was assuming is a little disappointing. Knowing that is it largely a natural process makes me feel a little better about it.
Why is citric acid used
- flavoring agent – sodas
- preservative – many processed and canned foods (even your own home canned tomatoes)
- emulsifier – ice creams and other fatty frozen treats
It has a sour taste overuse use could change the flavor of a product unfavorable. If you have ever had sliced apples that tasted a little off and not as sweet as you would have liked, too much citric acid might be the culprit or you might just be buying bland apples.
You can buy the citric acid powder in the canning section to help preserve foods you can from your garden or farmers market. It also has applications as a cleaning agent used in a much larger quantity than you would find in your food but might be a good option to get rid of some hard water stains. Which, if you have had hard water, you know is a real bear to get rid of.
Pros: It makes your flavored beverages taste citrusy and your can goods have a longer shelf life.
Cons: The most common citric acid doesn’t come from citrus. Because it comes from a mold this means some people can be allergic to citric acid.
Will you still buy products that have citric acid?
What other items listed in the label ingredient list give you pause? Leave them in the comments and maybe your question will get answered in a future post.
Articles used in research: