Label Decoder: Citric Acid

by in Label Decoder, December 17, 2009

You’ll this food additive in a variety of sweet foods — jams, gelatin desserts, candy and ice cream, to name a few. Luckily, it’s safe. Here’s some info on how it’s made and why it’s used.

What Is It?
Citric acid (a.k.a. sodium citrate) comes from the juice of citrus fruits and berries. It’s created by fermenting cane sugar or molasses with the fungus Aspergillus niger. Cooks and food manufacturers use it as a flavor enhancer, antioxidant and to increase the acidity of food, especially when canning. You’ll typically find it in ice cream, sherbet, carbonated beverages, candy and reconstituted instant potatoes — it shows up on a lot of packaged food labels because it’s versatile and cheap.

Is It Safe?
Citric acid was first isolated from lemon juice by a Swedish chemist in the late 1700s, so we’ve been eating it for a while. Experts consider it safe and we have long relied on it to add acidity, which helps preserve food. Some folks may be intolerant to citric acid; if that’s you, reading labels is essential since it’s found naturally in many fruits, veggies and added to so many packaged foods.

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