Citric acid tastes exceedingly sour and sharp, eliciting a puckering sensation. It occurs naturally in some foods, especially fruits. The food industry purposefully adds it to other foods during production, mainly because it acts as an effective preservative, deterring browning and spoilage. Commercially-produced citric acid is typically concocted by combining sugar, molasses or dextrose with a strain of mold and allowing it to ferment.
Like their name implies, citrus fruits harbor the highest concentrations of citric acid. Lemons and limes and their undiluted juices contain the most citric acid, followed by grapefruits, then oranges. Lemonade and limeade beverages and powders contain the next highest doses of citric acid of any food or drink. Concentrations of citric acid in lemonades and limeades vary by brand.
Other Fruits and Vegetables
Most all berries contain citric acid, including cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries and currants. Redcurrants possess a particularly large amount of citric acid, to the extent that some jam recipes allow redcurrant juice as a substitute for lemon juice. Other fruits containing citric acid include pineapples and tamarinds. In general, the more tart a fruit tastes, the more citric acid it contains. Any canned fruits, citrus or otherwise, may contain citric acid – read the ingredient label to be sure. As for vegetables, tomatoes, Jerusalem artichokes and bagged lettuces contain citric acid.
Citric acid is added to nearly all carbonated soft drinks. The largest amounts are added to fruit-flavored soft drinks, particularly the citrus-flavored varieties. Most alcoholic beverages don’t contain citric acid, with the exception of wine. Citric acid forms naturally in wine during fermentation, and is sometimes added afterward to enhance clarity.
Most all jams and fruit preserves contain citric acid. Even if the jam wasn’t made from a fruit containing citric acid, such as grapes, it is added during production to obtain the balance necessary for stabilization. Bakers use citric acid in sourdough bread to give it that sour taste, often referring to it as “sour salt.” Other sources of citric acid include sherbet, fruit-flavored yogurt, sour candies, vitamin C supplements and some cheeses.
- Understanding Food Additives: Acidulants
- National Center for Biotechnology Information; Citric Acid Content, in Descending Order, of Various Fruit Juices and Commercially-Available Juice Formulations; March 2008
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Quantitative Assessment of Citric Acid in Lemon Juice, Lime Juice, and Commercially-Available Fruit Juice Products; Kristina L. Penniston, M.D. et al.
- Vicky Clarke's Citric Acid Intolerance Site: Foods
- Enotes.com: Jam and Jelly
- Mountain Rose Herbs: Citric Acid Profile
Based in western New York, Amy Harris began writing for Demand Media and Great Lakes Brewing News in 2010. Harris holds a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Penn State University; she taught high school math for several years and has also worked in the field of instructional design.