Oranges are one of the citrus fruits that we all crave to eat. The fresh smell that lingers in the air when you peel off an orange perk up your mood. As you take a bite, the juice droplets roll on your tongue and trigger a sweetish sour taste that makes you scrunch up with a cute gesture. Have you ever wondered about the reason behind this? Oranges acquire their activating sour taste from the citric acid present in them.

What is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is a weak, organic, tricarboxylic acid, which is usually found in citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges. The pH of citric acid ranges from 3 to 6. It was first isolated from lemons in 1784 by Carl Wilhelm Scheele. Citric acid can be produced artificially by efficient citric acid-producing fungi called Aspergillus niger. When these fungi feed on certain sugars such as corn starch, molasses, and sugar solutions, they produce large quantities of citric acid that are used in pharmaceutical companies. Citric acid is also an intermediate in the citric acid cycle, which occurs in all living organisms. 

Sources of Citric Acid:

It’s a common notion that only sour fruits contain citric acid, but that is not true. Traces of citric acid are present in all plants and animals naturally. It is also present in artificially processed food, drinks, medicines, cleaning agents, and cosmetics. 

Here’s a list of citrus fruits that are rich in citric acid:

  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Oranges
  • Tangerines
  • Grapefruits
  • Pomelos

Citrus fruits that contain lesser amounts of citric acid than the above-mentioned fruits are

  • Strawberries
  • Cranberries
  • Raspberries
  • Pineapples
  • Tomatoes

Is Citric Acid healthy?

Citric Acid

Consumption of foods rich in citric acid is healthy. Citric acid acts as an antioxidant and protects the body from free radical attacks. Eating sufficient amounts of antioxidants prevents your body from every kind of heart disease and cancer. Citric acid also acts as an alkalizing agent and lowers the acidity in the stomach and kidney. 

Health benefits of Citric Acid:

1. Improves absorption of nutrients:

The minerals that you consume daily are not equally absorbed by the body. Citric acid can enhance the absorption and bioavailability of nutrients. The stomach absorbs minerals in its citrate form faster than any other forms. For example, calcium citrate does not require stomach acid for absorption and has an absorbing capacity more than calcium carbonate. Similarly, magnesium citrate is more absorbable and more bioavailable than its oxides and sulfides.

2. Prevents kidney stones:

Kidney stones have become prominent among men who work more than eighteen hours a day. They usually forget to drink water at regular intervals due to work and peer pressure.  Medicines containing sodium citrate and potassium citrate binds to the calcium ions, lowers the acidity in the urine, and prevents gout attacks and kidney stones. Studies have proved that drinking a cup of lemon juice diluted with water every day, increases urine citrate content and reduces the risk of kidney stones.

3. Metabolizes energy:

The body undergoes several cycles to convert food into usable energy. The citric acid cycle (CAC), also known as the Tricarboxylic acid cycle (TAC) or Krebs cycle, is one such series of chemical reactions when acetyl-Coenzyme A from the protein and fat molecules is oxidized to release energy. Citrate, a derivative of citric acid, forms an integral part of this metabolic pathway. It is consumed and regenerated in the cycle, and the energy is released in the form of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate).

4. Citric Acid uses for skin:

Being an alpha-hydroxy acid, citric acid furnishes the skin with numerous benefits.

  • Prevents infection: Skin infections are common among men with diabetes and men who smoke. Citric acid, when applied to the skin, kills the bacteria on the surface of the skin. It also protects the skin from pollution, free radical attacks, and ultraviolet radiation.
  • Acts as an anti-aging agent: Citric acid is loaded with antioxidants that protect the skin and reverse the aging effects. It helps to diminish the face wrinkles and fine lines.
  • Cleanses the skin: We sweat a lot after a hectic day at work. Applying citric acid on the skin exfoliates the upper layer of dead skin cells, unclogs the skin pores, and softens the skin.
  • Reduces acne: Acne has become a nuisance in our lives, spoiling our handsome faces. Citric acid possesses antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the oil or sebum in the sweat glands and kills the bacteria causing acne. It also reduces redness and inflammations and lightens the scars and blemishes. Apply some lemon juice on your face and see the luminous glow yourself!

Other uses of Citric Acid:

Citric Acid

1. Flavoring and Preserving agent in food industries:

Don’t we all drool over on seeing rows of jarred foods decked in the supermarket? Manufactured citric acid is one of the most popular additives in those foods. It keeps packaged foods and canned drinks fresh for a longer time. It contains antioxidants that preserve packed sliced fruits from turning brown. As a flavoring agent, it helps to enhance the sour taste in foods. The presence of citric acid in packed foods prevents botulism. Wine-makers add citric acid to their products as it balances out the acid in the drink and augments the taste.

2. Stabilizing agent in medicines:

Citric acid plays a vital role in medicines and other dietary supplements. It preserves the active compounds of medicines from dissociating into smaller ions. Hence, citric acid stabilizes the structural backbone of medicines.

3. Disinfecting and cleaning agent:

Aren’t you able to wash away the stains in your vessel? Don’t worry! Citric acid is a prime ingredient in dishwashing detergent due to its ability to remove hard water stains from glassware. It is effective at removing soap scum, coffee or tea stains, urine stains, discoloration, calcium deposits, and rust. Citric acid not only helps in cleaning but also serves the purpose of a preservative.

It is a potent ingredient for general disinfection and cleaning because citric acid kills bacteria, fungi, and mildew. Hence, it is added to insecticides and household disinfectants.  It can be used as an alternative to bleaching powder and chlorine due to its safe composition. Being a part of the hand sanitizer you use every day, citric acid cleanses your hands off any bacteria or dirt.

4. In cosmetics:

Citric acid helps to brighten the skin color, diminish the dark spots and blemishes, and reduce fine lines. When citric acid is added to personal care products, it forms alpha-hydroxy acid, which softens the skin. It is also an ingredient in creams, hair sprays, and deodorants to help adjust their pH level and make them last longer. Products containing citric acid are usually safe to apply around sensitive areas such as eyes, lips, mouth, and nasal passages.

Side effects of Citric Acid:

Although it is a weak acid, pure citric acid causes cough and irritation when inhaled. Over-consumption may cause sore throat, erosion of tooth enamel,  and abdominal pain. Citric acid also has side effects on the skin and the eyes. The high antioxidant content causes itching, dryness, burning, and redness.  

People who have chronic kidney disease, heart disease, and Addison’s disease are prohibited to consume citrates due to higher levels of sodium and potassium in their blood. Serious side effects of citric acid and its salt derivatives include numbness, muscle cramping, weight gain, fatigue, mood swings, swift breathing, rapid heartbeat, a feeling of anxiety, black or bloody stools, and constipation. 

Sink your teeth into a lemon and relish the tart citrus taste. Your body will wake up with full vigor and your face will glow like a hero!