By Bridget Reed

Malic Acid vs. Citric Acid: 7 Differences

Welcome to the Gooberland Arena for the Ultimate Flavor Showdown: Malic Acid vs. Citric Acid.

These two acids will go head-to-head in a battle to the death (just kidding, no acids were harmed in the making of this showdown). They’ll compete in various categories designed to analyze and test their strength, stamina, and overall yumminess to determine which, if any, is the superior sour acid.

With varying sizes, pH levels, origins, flavor profiles, uses, and sourness, who will win out in the Ultimate Flavor Showdown? Win, lose, or draw, these two minuscule acids are both heavy-hitting winners in our eyes.

The Competitors

Get ready to meet the contestants before the smackdown begins.

In the red corner

Our first contender weighs in at a measly 134.09 g/mol (that’s grams of atomic mass for those of you taking notes. They’re super teeny tiny) and rocks two carboxylic groups in its chemical formula. 

Hailing from the cells of every apple you’ve ever eaten and produced in some amount by every living organism on the planet — you can call it C4H6O5, you can call it a super-sour-maker, you can call it whatever you want, just don’t call it late for dinner.

Meet the dastardly, devilish, dicarboxylic demon itself — Maaaliiiiiiiiic Aciiiiiiiiiid!!!

And in the blue corner

A heavyweight by comparison, our second contender weighs in at 192 g/mol (slightly less super teeny tiny) and boasts a whopping three carboxylic groups in its chemical formula.

Keeping true to its name, citric acid hails from the tangy land of citrus fruit. Call it C6H8O7, call it the Zing Master Extraordinaire, call it whatever you want as long as you remember to call it when you get home safe.

Give it up for the treacherous, the terrible, the tricarboxylic tyrant — Citriiiiiiiic Aciiiiiiiiiid!!!

You might think citric acid has the upper hand because of its impressive size, but don’t count out malic acid just yet. We all know it ain’t about the amount of molar mass in a substance. It all comes down to the amount of sour power in the acid.

Round One

Our first head-to-head round assesses all aspects of flavor in the categories of general flavor profile, chemical acidity levels, and overall sourness.

Malic Acid

Flavor Profile: Malic acid generally has a sweeter, fruitier taste.

Chemical Acidity: Landing at 3.4 on the pH scale, malic acid technically lands closer to neutral than its competitor.

Sourness: Even though malic acid is less acidic by measure of pH, it has an overall more acidic taste on the palette.

Citric Acid

Flavor Profile: Citric acid hits the tongue with a sharper, more tart and, you guessed it, citrusy flavor. 

Chemical Acidity: All the way down there at 2.2 pH, by that measure, citric acid is technically the more acidic of the two.

Sourness: Citric acid has a lower pH, larger mass, and an extra carboxylic group, but unfortunately, it does not have enough potency or staying power to best malic acid in this round.

And there’s the bell!

In a surprisingly strong round one showing, malic acid edges out the competition and will enter round two unscathed.

Round Two

Our second round tests the competitors’ overall usefulness as food additives compared to how easy they are to source.

Malic Acid

As an additive: Malic acid helps give foods a softer and gummier texture while improving shelf-life by protecting against spoiling. It’s also used to adjust the pH of certain cosmetic formulas that we do not recommend you snack on.

Source-ability: Generally more expensive and not as widely available.

Citric Acid

As an additive: In foods, citric acid helps create a firmer and more elastic texture. It also helps to prevent spoiling and has uses in the realm of cosmetics.

Source-ability: Citric acid tends to be less expensive and easier to find out in the wild (and by the wild, we mean the grocery store or ingredient-supplier).

Ding! Ding! Ding!

As the bell rings on the second round, citric acid has made an impressive comeback after going toe-to-toe in an evenly-matched first half. 

Both of these impressive acids are useful in their own ways for improving food textures and preventing spoilage, and they’re also widely used in cosmetics and skin-care products. But despite malic acid being present in every living organism on the planet, citric acid manages to win this round for somehow being generally more affordable and easier to source.

Round Three

They’re one-for-one, and it all comes down to this: the third and final round of the Ultimate Flavor Showdown, where we’ll assess which acid is better for creating the greatest sour candy of all time.

Wait a second, who came up with these rules? If The Final Boss is running this show and, by our own measure, we make the greatest sour candy of all time, then round three has to be a draw. 

We use both malic and citric acids in all flavors and all levels of our sour candies, so there’s no way we can choose a favorite. That’s like choosing between pizza rolls or bagel bites as the greatest microwaveable snack of all time — it simply can’t be done!

Hang on, is that … it is! How did nobody notice Lardsworth sitting in the audience wearing a mustache and taking notes? Somebody catch him!

The Winner Is

Well, there you have it, folks. Never a dull moment in the Gooberland Arena.

There are no winners and no losers here today, except for Lardsworth, who has to go back to Frumpkin Hill Farms empty-handed after trying to gather intel on our proprietary blend of sour acids for the Final Boss. Not today, piggy. 


Malic Acid | C4H6O5 | CID 525 | PubChem

Citric Acid - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

Malic Acid - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

Final report on the safety assessment of Malic Acid and Sodium Malate | National Library of Medicine

Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin | National Library of Medicine