By Bridget Reed

What Is Citric Acid? Pros and Cons

Sour school is officially in session, and today’s topic of discussion is citric acid, a major player in foreign and American sour candies. 

You might not be familiar with citric acid, but citric acid is definitely familiar with you. It can be found in our soft drinks, makeup products, medications, disinfectants, fruit baskets, and (most importantly) sour candy — pretty much the entire food industry and some of our personal care products.

If it wasn’t already obvious, we looooooove sour candy. We think about it every day! But even we can admit that it’s easy to mindlessly consume our favorite cranberries without really considering what’s in them. 

That veers a little too close to NPC behavior for our comfort, so today, we’re taking a deep dive into this candy industry darling. Get comfortable because we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about citric acid.

What Is Citric Acid?

Maybe you’ve heard of citric acid before, or maybe this is completely new to you. Either way, we’re coming in with the assist via a brief history of this natural-acid-turned-food-additive.

It all began 102 million years ago when the first lemon tree popped out of the soil....Kidding! It did begin a couple of centuries ago when a Swedish dude named Carl Wilhelm Scheele first discovered the acid. 

He learned he could create citric acid by crystallizing it from lemon juice. Then, in 1917, another dude named James Currie discovered citric acid could also be produced using a type of black mold called Aspergillus niger.

If your initial thought about that is “Black mold? Ummm, what the f***?!?” — We hear you. Normally, the presence of black mold warrants a full battle royale to de-toxify your home. But James was sort of the GOAT chemist because it turns out that citric acid is actually useful for a lot of things, and when prepared correctly, it is pretty safe to consume.

Aside from being squeegeed out of black mold, citric acid is also naturally occurring in citrus fruits, such as lemons and limes. In fact, citric acid is the very reason these fruits have their tart, sour taste.

Other natural sources of citric acid include grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, and pineapple. Basically, most things that make you want to pucker up your lips owe their tang to citric acid. It’s like the second final boss of sour (ahem, ahem, first place prize goes to our level three candies).

What Is Citric Acid Used For?

Although citric acid is most often used as a food additive for flavoring purposes, it’s also used as a preservative, dietary supplement, and disinfectant in many cleaning products. So, ironically, citric acid from black mold may end up on a side quest to eliminate the mold growing under your kitchen sink.

Using black mold to produce citric acid is much cheaper than extracting it from citrus fruits, so that’s become the default setting for citric acid production. This type of citric acid is called “manufactured citric acid,” and it’s one of the most common food additives

You can find it in soft drinks, frozen foods, dairy products like ice cream, and sour candies — even ones that aren’t quite so tart, like our Level 1 Blueberries.

Citric acid is also used in some cosmetic products, such as hair spray. Finally, citric acid is also an alpha-hydroxy acid and can be incorporated into skin exfoliants to help remove dead skin cells and unclog your pores.

Is Citric Acid Good for You?

We’ve established that citric acid is almost OP in terms of commercial value. But what about the value to your health?

One of the reasons citric acid is used as a dietary supplement is because it improves mineral absorption. You might notice mineral supplements with “-citrate” at the end of them — magnesium citrate, calcium citrate, etc. The addition of citric acid (or “citrate”) to these minerals is like a power-up that allows your body to absorb and make use of them more effectively.

Citric acid is also an antioxidant, and antioxidants provide a mega boost to your health bar. They combat free radicals, which come in all shapes and sizes and are basically your cells’ #1 opp.

You can think of free radicals as bots that spawn out of nowhere and pile up to damage your DNA, while antioxidants are a checkpoint that stops them in their tracks. Foods rich in antioxidants, like berries, dark chocolate, dark leafy greens, and citrus fruits, support your body’s natural shield of your cells from the potential damage of free radicals. 

But it’s important to note that only naturally occurring citric acid is an antioxidant. Manufactured citric acid (the black mold method) is not.

Citric Acid Health Concerns

Citric acid is recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a safe food additive, so for the most part, you don’t have to stress about seeing this bad boy listed on the ingredients list of any foods or products. However, black mold is an allergen for some people, so if you have a severe mold allergy, you may want to steer clear.

In case you couldn’t discern from the name, citric acid is also pretty acidic, and consuming a ton of it without practicing good dental hygiene can be a KO for your tooth enamel. Just think of this as reason number 157 why you should be brushing your teeth and flossing every night.

Our Favorite Citric Acid Snacks

Okay, so we know that citric acid is healthy for most people and packs a punch as far as flavor, mineral absorption, and antioxidants go. That means it’s time to discuss one of our most favorite topics: Snacks!

Here are our top five favorite citric-acid-packed snacks.

1. Berries and Cream

It’s not just a trend on TikTok, okay? Laugh all you want, but this stuff slaps. Throw some blueberries, blackberries, and cut-up strawbs into a bowl. 

Add a dollop of whipped cream on top (and/or any other toppings you’d like, such as chocolate syrup or a pinch of granulated sugar), and you’ve got a little snacky-snack that will keep you satisfied with both healthy fruit and something to satisfy your sweet tooth.

2. Ice Cream Sandwiches

Citric acid is often added to ice cream as an emulsifying agent, which means that this list would be incomplete without one of the best snacks of all time, an ice cream sandwich. These days, you can find them in a whole range of sizes and flavors, including ice cream sandwiched between two cookies, Oreo or mint chip flavors, and dipped in chocolate chips. Personally, we think the classic style is the way to go.

3. Frozen Orange Slices

For something a bit on the healthier side, try slicing up an orange and sticking it in the freezer for a couple of hours (clementines work really well for this as well). This makes an ideal snack for when you’re multitasking and need something delicious but not super involved. In our opinion, there’s nothing better than snacking on semi-frozen fruit while murking enemies on your video game of choice.

4. Mountain Dew and _____

The classic gamer drink is a classic for a reason. Many sodas contain citric acid, including Mountain Dew — the acid is responsible for the characteristic lemon-lime flavor. Pair this caffeinated drink with something salty to munch on, like pretzel sticks or popcorn, for an energy burst that will satisfy all your taste buds.

5. Sour Candy

Drumroll, please, for our favorite snack of all time: Sour candy! (Okay, we might be a little biased.) 

Sour candy might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but between our three different levels of sour power and three different berry flavors, we’d be willing to bet you’ll find something to obsess over.

Our Pro Pack contains Level 1 and Level 2 Blueberries and Cranberries. These delightfully sour snacks are made of real fruit (AKA those good citric acid antioxidants, rather than the black mold variety) and are made to satisfy your craving for sour, however tart you prefer it. 

Or, if you really want to amp up the sour factor, try out Level 3 Boss Pack, featuring all three fruits (Blueberry, Strawberry, and Cranberry) at their max tartness: Level 3. This is our personal favorite flavor, but be warned — this pack will take your sour stamina to the next level! 


Citric Acid - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

Food additives | WHO 

Antioxidants | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21