1. Food

What Is Citric Acid?

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Bowl of Lemons photo

Lemons are a natural source of citric acid

(c) 2011 Elizabeth LaBau, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Maybe you've heard of citric acid, or seen it listed in recipes, and wondered, "What is citric acid?" Citric acid is a natural acid that is found in many fruits. It is very bitter, and it gives fruits like lemons and limes their characteristic sour flavor. Citric acid is a common food additive and is found in everything from sodas to candies. A small amount of citric acid can boost the "tanginess" of certain candy flavors like lemon, lime, orange, and raspberry candies, and make them taste more natural and similar to the raw fruits. A larger amount of citric acid is used to produce candies that are very sour, like the sour gummy worms that have become popular.

Is Citric Acid Safe to Eat?

Yes. Citric acid is a natural substance and very few people are allergic to it. It is quite sour and might cause stomach discomfort if consumed in large quantities, but most candy recipes call for very small amounts that should be harmless to almost everyone. Getting citric acid in your eyes may cause eye irritation, so use caution when handling it.

Where Can I Buy Citric Acid?

Citric acid is most commonly is sold as a white powder, sometimes labeled "sour salt." It can be readily purchased online, and is found in many grocery stores and super markets. I am able to find mine in the bulk spices section of a local ethnic grocery store.

How Should I Store Citric Acid?

Store citric acid in an airtight container or plastic bag at room temperature. Stored properly, citric acid can be kept for years.

What Are Some Recipes That Use Citric Acid?

In candy-making, almost all recipes that require citrus flavoring (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, etc) can benefit from a little pinch of citric acid. The acid adds a "bite" that normal flavoring extracts lack, and make the candy taste much more natural. Here are some recipes that specifically call for citric acid:

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