Citric Acid – What Is It Really?

Ever wondered what citric acid is when reading the ingredients in a food or drink product? It can be found on almost any food label and is one of the most common food additives proclaimed as “natural” and “healthy.” Well, it sure is natural but most certainly not healthy. Many think it’s a substance derived from citrus fruit, well that used to be correct. Sadly, today’s citric acid is completely different.

What Is Citric Acid Exactly?

Citric acid is an organic acid that is a component of all aerobic living organism, most commonly found in citrus and acidic fruits. “Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)” is also another term and sounds normal enough that you don’t think twice about it. It’s been used as an additive in processed foods for more than 100 years as a preservative, flavoring, and an emulsifier. It acts as a great preservative and thus, is found in many canned and jarred foods to prevent spoilage.

How Citric Acid is Synthesized from Genetically Modified Black Mold

Aspergillus niger is a black mold that naturally appears on produce, as pictured on the onion above. However, the ingenuity of the industrial food industry has made it so that citric acid can be created from Aspergillus niger. YIKES! You’ve likely heard of how unhealthy black mold is. There are even certain strains of Aspergillus that, if inhaled, can cause vital sicknesses. This particular strain of Aspergillus (niger) used to make citric acid is not as lethal as others, however for those with a weak or impaired immune system, Aspergillus niger has been found to pose serious health risks from spore inhalation. I do want to point out that citric acid can be obtained from lemon or pineapple juice (the way nature intend), producing it from A. niger is a far less expensive process for food manufacturers.

Here is what the FDA has to say about the process of citric acid fermentation by this black mold.

To quote this research article:

Most citric acid is produced by fungal (A. niger) fermentation. Chemical synthesis of citric acid is possible but it is not cheaper than fungal fermentation. However, a small amount of citric acid is still produced from citrus fruits in Mexico and South America where they are available economically.

Infections in the Gastrointestinal Tract

The below quote is from chapter 9 from the book Diagnostic Pathology of Infectious Disease

Several species can infect the esophagus, including Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus niger, and Aspergillusflavus. Aspergillus commonly colonizes immunocompromised patients 33-35 but can invade tissues and disseminate via the bloodstream, posing a life-threatening condition. Patients with esophageal aspergillosis present with painful or difficult swallowing and weight loss. Concurrent mucosal candidiasis may be present.

Feeding The Mold

Black mold is able to efficiently (and inexpensively) convert sugars into citric acid. Usually by feeding sucrose or glucose (commonly derived from corn starch – likely GMO) to the black mold, a citric acid solution is created.

These forums show complaints about citric acid from those allergic / intolerant to citric acid itself, mold & yeast and/or corn. Food intolerance to citric acid may trigger gastrointestinal upsets such as:
• Abdominal pain
• Cramps
• Boating
• Diarrhea
• Nausea

Citric Acid from GMO Corn Is STILL Considered Non-GMO!

The section below from The Non-GMO Report states it’s best:

Citric acid, used widely as a preservative in organic foods, is another problem. Citric acid is commonly derived from a fungus, Aspergillus Niger, which may be GM. The fungus is combined with a substrate made from commodity corn, which could also be GM. However, Baker says only the fungus raises GMO concerns because the corn substrate is removed. “We’re concerned with the source organism itself and not the substrate. A substrate of commodity corn is acceptable.”

What About Organic Products?

This article states that hidden GMO ingredients that reportedly set off allergenic responses for some sensitive consumers.

Ingredients from a grain free granola – it can be in anything.

Common Foods Containing Citric Acid:
• Jarred salsas and pasta sauces
• Canned tomatoes
• Soups (“fresh” or canned)
• Hummus
• Dips / spreads
• Frozen fish / shell fish
• Many processed sweets
• Pre-cut and packaged fruits and vegetables (big one!)
• Baby food (canned, pouches, etc.)

My intention is never to scare or freak you out. I mean, yes, I do and have consumed canned tomato sauce with citric acid (my mom makes the best soup with it! Ugh the struggle! haha) But I typically avoid it whenever possible in my daily life and always make conscious choices at the grocery store. The original method citric acid was produced via lemons it still done but in a smaller scale and companies do have the choice of what option they want used in their product (if they are even aware of the difference). So if you see it in the ingredients of something, always bet to ask…I always do! Bottom line, citric acid used to be made from fruit but now it’s more commonly made from the sulfuric acid produced by feeding sugars to black mold. Comment HERE is you have any questions….I’d love to hear your thoughts about this post in general! See you on the gram!

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