Citric Acid. Ubiquitous in foods. But where does it come from?

yellow lemon fruit on brown wooden table

Citric Acid found in the ingredient list.  It’s from citrus.  Right?

You would think so.  But that’s far from the truth.

I just read an article about what citric acid really is in Wise Traditions Summer 2023.[1]

I was appalled and wanted to share what I learned with you.

So you too know what it is and why to avoid it.

This supposedly innocuous additive is “derived from industrial-scale microbial fermentation involving degradation of carbo­hydrate substrates (such as corn byproducts or molasses) by a common black mold called Aspergillus niger (or A. niger).[2]   

It’s derived from black mold, not citrus fruit. 

Wow!  That’s scary.

And disgusting.

And you don’t have to pick up too many packages in the store (or in your pantry or fridge) before finding one with citric acid listed as an ingredient. 

It’s ubiquitous.

It functions as an acidulant, preservative, emulsi­fier, flavorant[3], and stabilizer.”[4]

It’s found in just about every pre-packaged, prepared food you can imagine – baby foods, pre-packaged fruits and veggies, canned and jarred foods, hummus, salsa, chicken stock, yogurts and cheeses, baked goods and desserts, protein powders, juices, soft drinks, and even some wines.[5]

In addition to food and beverages, it’s also found in cosmetics, personal care products, animal feed, pharmaceuticals, and even things like cement, concrete, and plaster.[6]

Don’t think that putting this on your skin is any more benign than ingesting it.

I talk about that in my blog:

“Colds, allergies, and asthma…  What’s the connection to your personal care and cleaning products?”

“What goes on our skin potentially goes right into our blood stream and our lymphatic system… and can get stored in various tissues and organs.”

Imagine the potential harm this additive is posing to the unknowing consumer who thinks it’s a benign ingredient derived from citrus.

People like you and me.

People with any sort of allergy or mold sensitivity.

 Or any sort of compromise to their health for that matter. 

Just another reason to avoid processed foods and beverages and do your own cooking.

It’s really not that hard and can be quite enjoyable and satisfying.

It’s much more economical – much better for your bank account both short and long term.  You’ll save dollars now as you cook for yourself, and you’ll save on health care costs down the road.

Citric acid is just one example of many food additives and preservatives that are making us ill.[7]

It has never undergone safety tests.

In 1958, the FDA adopted a Food Additives Amendment.  The amend­ment dictated that “any substance intentional­ly added to food is a food additive and is subject to pre-market approval by FDA unless the use of the substance is generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” [emphasis added].[8]

Having been in widespread use for decades prior to 1958, citric acid was one of several additives “grandfathered” in as GRAS.

This freed the FDA from having to evaluate the safety of citric acid “when ingested in substantial amounts and with chronic exposure.”[9]

Hmmm…  That doesn’t sound good.

And remember it’s in just about everything.

In the late 1700s, Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele was the first person to isolate citric acid from lemon juice.  He developed a method that was soon adopted in other countries for commercial production.[10],[11]

In the early twentieth century, however, food scientists turned to synthetic options for manufacturing citric acid in order to lower production costs and increase profit.[12],[13]

Pfizer pioneered the mass production of citric acid using mold fermentation as described above.  Yuk!

It started in 1919 with the fermentation of sugar.  Then in 1923 they switched to a less expensive molasses.

Pfizer and a Bayer subsidiary dominated the American citric acid market through the 1980s.  Although an extremely lucrative business, they relied on an external substrate (i.e., food source or feedstock).

In 1990, “Corn Biotech” firms Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) entered the field and introduced a method that cut production costs 5-10%.  Instead of relying on an external substrate they began piping in liquid feedstock directly to its citric acid facility.[14]

Barf.  That’s just gross.  And it only gets worse.

To increase citric acid production, A. niger has undergone “significant genetic modifications…resulting in genetically modified variants of the mold.”[15]

To me and others, this means that A. niger is a genetically modified organism (GMO).[16]

What’s even worse is the fact that corn has become the predominant substrate in the production of citric acid.  And almost all corn is genetically modified.

So, whether or not you consider A. niger a GMO, the corn used for its production is most likely GMO.  The variety of corn that is used on an industrial scale is called yellow dent corn, or field corn, and it’s very high in starch, which makes it attractive for producers of citric acid, high fructose corn syrup, and other pillars of the American diet.[17]

However, because of a loophole in Federal regulations products labeled as “organic” or “made with organic ingredients” are allowed to include GMO-derived citric acid without any disclosure as to its origin.[18]

This includes baby food. 

To be clear, the manufacturing process leaves behind mold residues, which can be especially problematic for those with mold sensitivity or an already impaired immune system, or those who have not yet developed a good immune system…like an infant who is being fed Gerber.

There have been numerous studies linking the consumption of manufactured citric acid to symptoms like acid reflux, nausea, stomach pain, cramps, and hives.

These allergies and intolerances can start from a young age because, as just noted, most baby food contains citric acid.[19]

Authors of one study cited citric acid-induced inflammatory reactions.  They hypothesized that these reactions might be playing a “causative role” in musculoskeletal conditions, such as: [20]

  • Allergic asthma
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
  • Fatigue syndrome
  • Gastrointes­tinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.”

There is one more concern with the production of citric acid that I want to mention.

It can also be another hidden source for MSG (monosodium glutamate), including products labeled “no MSG.”

“Corn is soaked in water with sulfur dioxide in order to remove the corn kernel and the remaining liquor is what is used to make the citric acid. However, during this process, the corn protein gets completely degraded, and manufacturers don’t remove this remaining protein, which leads to the protein becoming hydrolyzed, which means there is now free glutamic acid, aka MSG in the citric acid. Citric acid also has the capa­bility to react with other proteins it comes in contact with (in processed foods), thus freeing up even more glutamic acid.  Be­cause this manufactured citric acid contains MSG, it is now considered an excitotoxin.”[21]

Among many negative effects of MSG is it tricks our taste buds into wanting more and more.

If someone realizes that their health-related issues are due to the citric acid in a product, they’re still left to determine:

Are they reacting to the corn?  The mold?  The MSG?  or some combination of the three?

This article is a good reminder to READ the ingredient list on the label before putting an item in your cart.

And an incentive to cook fresh, nourishing food for you and your family.

“I don’t find the time,” you say.

Sign up for a free Discovery Call so I can help you figure this out.  I am both a nutritional therapist and mindset coach and can help you discover new ways of doing things that better serve you.

There is a HIGH COST to cheap when it comes to food and health.

Hear what Martha G. has learned and the changes she’s made in regard to processed foods and reading labels:

Gaining insight about ingredients was integral to improving my eating habits overall.  I have become a label reader due to Karen’s class and insight.  Learning more about the negative effects of the chemicals in processed foods has provided a great awareness and I am living more healthy overall.  The class covered many other relevant concepts regarding nutrition and exercise.  It introduced me to a positive trajectory to not only losing a few pounds but feeling well. Thank you Karen!” 

The global citric acid market reached a volume of about 2.59 million tons in 2022.  And it’s expected to reach approximately 3.29 million tons by 2028.[22]

China has become the biggest producer, controlling about 60% of the market.[23]

Note.  There’s nothing wrong with citric acid from natural sources like citrus fruit or other acidic foods like tomatoes.  It can provide health benefits such as prevention of kidney stones.[24]

It’s also been shown to provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action, which can improve the immune system and protect the liver and brain.  It also enhances the bioavailability of essential minerals elements like iron, which can help to reduce anemia.[25]

It’s sad to observe how we’ve been conditioned to think we need packed foods to survive when in essence we’re just consuming chemicals which are harmful to us in order to benefit the bottom line of all the companies in the food industry. 

Whereas, if we we chose the foods that God gives us, we would be getting endless health benefits.

There are some companies that use citrus-derived citric acid, but the labeling often won’t tell you that.

The only way to know is to contact the company directly and ask for a Certificate of Analysis to verify their source. If they use a synthetic version, write to the company and request that they use a natural source.

It’s up to us to find out what’s really in our food and determine if it’s safe.  We cannot leave it up to our regulatory agencies.

Fortunately we have each other and we have choices.

Be well and stay safe.

Peace and grace,

Karen

[1] https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/manufactured-citric-acid-ubiquitous-but-not-innocuous/#gsc.tab=0

[2] Sweis IE, Cressey BC. Potential role of the common food additive manufac­tured citric acid in eliciting significant inflammatory reactions contributing to serious disease states: a series of four case reports. Toxicol Rep. 2018;5:808-12.

[3] “A flavorant is a substance that is added to a food or beverage solely for the purpose of imparting a particular taste or aroma. Unlike flavoring, which can enhance or modify the existing taste of a food or beverage, flavorants are used to create a specific flavor profile.”  https://thecontentauthority.com/blog/flavoring-vs-flavorant

[4] Ciriminna R, Meneguzzo F, Delisi R et al. Citric acid: emerging applications of key biotechnology industrial product. Chem Cent J. 2017;11:22.

[5] Levy J. Citric acid pros & cons: is citric acid harmful to the body? Dr. Axe, Sep. 22, 2018.

[6] https://vellewellness.com/blogs/health-wellness/citric-acid-black-mold-and-pfizer-the-history-and-manufactuer-of-the-popular-additive

[7] The United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world.  Yet it also one of the sickest. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK154469/, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/new-health-rankings-of-17-nations-us-is-dead-last/267045/

[8] FDA’s approach to the GRAS provision: a history of processes. U.S. Food & Drug Administration, FDA Science Forum, April 2006 (content current as of Jan. 4, 2018). https://www.fda.gov/food/generally-recognized-safe-gras/fdas-approach-gras-provision-history-processes

[9] Sweis IE, Cressey BC. Potential role of the common food additive manufac­tured citric acid in eliciting significant inflammatory reactions contributing to serious disease states: a series of four case reports. Toxicol Rep. 2018;5:808-12.

[10] https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/manufactured-citric-acid-ubiquitous-but-not-innocuous/#gsc.tab=0

[11] Show PL, Oladele KO, Siew QY et al. Overview of citric acid production from Aspergillus niger. Front Life Sci. 2015;8(3):271-283.

[12] https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/manufactured-citric-acid-ubiquitous-but-not-innocuous/#gsc.tab=0

[13] One of the most common food additives is made with GMO fermented “mold” and GMO corn syrup. AltHealth Works, Apr. 22, 2023. https://althealthworks.com/citric-acid-gmo-mold-corn-author/

[14] Connor JM. The global citric acid conspiracy: legal-economic lessons. Agri­business. 1998;14(6):435-452.

[15] Sweis IE, Cressey BC. Potential role of the common food additive manufac­tured citric acid in eliciting significant inflammatory reactions contributing to serious disease states: a series of four case reports. Toxicol Rep. 2018;5:808-12.

[16] One of the most common food additives is made with GMO fermented “mold” and GMO corn syrup. AltHealth Works, Apr. 22, 2023. https://althealthworks.com/citric-acid-gmo-mold-corn-author/

[17] https://vellewellness.com/blogs/health-wellness/citric-acid-black-mold-and-pfizer-the-history-and-manufactuer-of-the-popular-additive

[18] https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-7/subtitle-B/chapter-I/subchapter-M/part-205/subpart-G/subject-group-ECFR0ebc5d139b750cd/section-205.605

[19] https://vellewellness.com/blogs/health-wellness/citric-acid-black-mold-and-pfizer-the-history-and-manufactuer-of-the-popular-additive

[20] Sweis IE, Cressey BC. Potential role of the common food additive manufac­tured citric acid in eliciting significant inflammatory reactions contributing to serious disease states: a series of four case reports. Toxicol Rep. 2018;5:808-12.

[21] Citric acid, black mold, and. . . Pfizer? The history and manufacture of the popular additive. Velle, Nov. 10, 2022.  https://vellewellness.com/blogs/health-wellness/citric-acid-black-mold-and-pfizer-the-history-and-manufactuer-of-the-popular-additive

[22] https://www.expertmarketresearch.com/reports/citric-acid-market

[23] https://vellewellness.com/blogs/health-wellness/citric-acid-black-mold-and-pfizer-the-history-and-manufactuer-of-the-popular-additive

[24] https://www.buzzrx.com/blog/health-benefits-of-citric-acid

[25] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B9780128190968000458

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3 thoughts on “Citric Acid. Ubiquitous in foods. But where does it come from?”

  1. It does not look like it went through. Hmmm. Well, I was wondering if CORN in a stalk.. like from Safeway was safe from mold. You mention corn but I wonder about corn on the cob. Also, curious to know which cosmetics citric acid is in. And yes.. HOW GROSS. EWWWW~~~~

    1. Hi Deborah. Thank you for your question. Three thoughts:
      1. The mold that I mention in my blog is from A. Niger not the corn. Some of the mold ends up in the citric acid. This is irrelated to corn on the cob.
      2. Corn of the cob is a different variety of corn than that used for the process mentioned above in my blog. Interestingly, while doing the research for the blog, I found an article on the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website titled Most Corn of the Cob is not GMO. https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/most-corn-cob-isnt-gmo This is welcome news. Although you should still know your farmer.
      3. I strongly urge people to buy local and know your farmers. That way you can ask about their practices and know whether or not they meet your standards. Check out my blog How is Your Food Raised https://karendehavenwellness.com/organic-etal-what-do-all-these-terms-mean/

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Enjoy these favorite dishes. 
 
Simple, nutrient dense recipes that will leave you feeling well-nourished and deeply satisfied.
 
Plus monthly REAL food tips & inspiration right to your inbox!
 
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