Usually produced in powder form, citric acid is naturally found in citrus fruits. It easily mixes into liquids, making it a valuable acid. Lemons and limes have high concentrations of citric acid, accounting for their bitter taste. Oranges and tangerines are also high in citric acid, though lower than the more bitter citrus fruits. You can find citric acid present in certain berries too, particularly raspberries and blackberries.
Citric acid is used as a flavoring in many preparations of Vitamin C, and has a wide variety of other uses. In industry, citric acid can be used to make good “natural” cleaners, though some may still contain chemicals that are not exactly natural. It’s also now commonly used in preparing photographs.
Citric acid bonds easily to minerals and metals, called chelation. It can help to take certain minerals with citric acid, since the body will more easily digest chelated minerals. For example, some calcium supplements can come in the form of calcium citrate, and are better absorbed by the body.
The ability of citric acid to bond with other minerals can make it helpful in softening water. Soaps and laundry detergents can be more effective when they contain citric acid. It can work well in shampoos because it tends to remove excess minerals from the water. Yet, sometimes a high concentration of citric acid can damage hair, since it opens hair cuticles. It can strip the hair of needed minerals and bleach it.
As a food additive, citric acid is in common use. It can be added to flavor certain drinks, especially soft drinks. It works well as a meat tenderizer because it tends to break down the meat proteins. However, it is bitter — one of its main uses in food is to make certain candy sour.
When you buy sour candies, you may note many of them are covered with a fine white powder. This is citric acid, which adds an exterior coating to the candies and provides quite a bit of sour taste. It can make the mouth pucker or feel dry, and higher quantities will produce very sour candies.
You’ll note citric acid in a variety of cleaning products and especially now in beauty products. Citric acid, combined with sodium bicarbonate, is used to make bath fizzes or bath tablets — the combination of the two produces carbon dioxide, producing a pleasantly effervescent water.
Citric acid is a common ingredient in skin masks and some lotions. It is thought an antioxidant that can help refresh skin and reduce the look of aging by promoting new skin growth and destroying free radicals. Too much exposure to citric acid can cause mild skin irritation, and it may be a good idea not to use skin products containing it if you have sensitive skin.
One of the best benefits of citric acid in all its applications is that it is natural and poses little to no risk to the environment. Very few people are allergic to citric acid, but some people may have stomach sensitivity to it, and might better avoid foods containing it. Read labels carefully, since citric acid may be used as a preservative in many more foods than you might expect.