Citric acid, naturally occurring in citrus fruits, is commonly added to a variety of food products, for both flavoring and as a preservative. Versatile in its uses, citric acid also features in pharmaceuticals, health and beauty products and industrial techniques.
A high concentration of citric acid accounts for the sour taste of lemons and limes. Oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, pummelos and tangelos contain lesser amounts, thus their sweeter flavor.
Iranian alchemist Jabir Ibn Hayyan discovered citric acid in the 8th century and industrial production began in the late 1800s. Today, China is the leading producer of citric acid, and 50 percent of industrially created citric acid is used in food products.
Added to soft drinks and other beverages as a flavoring, powdered citric acid also gives sour candies their bite. Too, citric acid is regularly employed as a food preservative.
Apart from the main uses as flavoring and preservative, citric acid is used to increase the acidity in inexpensive wines, as a stabilizer for ice cream products, as a substitute for lemon juice in some recipes and sometimes as a ripening agent in mozzarella cheese-making.
Citric acid isn't known to cause allergic reactions, but in people with sensitivities it can cause digestive tract pain and cramping, bloating, nausea and/or diarrhea. Depending on the severity, treatment for citric acid intolerance varies.
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About this Author
Danette Thompson has 30 years experience as a journalist, writing and editing for a chain of community newspapers. Thompson holds an Associate's degree in communication arts from St. Louis Community College at Meramec, Mo. She is also a published author of 12 novels, writing for Harlequin Books under the pseudonym Nicole Foster.