Citric acid is an organic acid that is a section of the aerobic living organisms and is found in abundance in various citrus fruits. This is used as an additive in processed foods since almost a century and provides a sour flavor along with acting as an emulsifying agent. It is found in various plants and fruits especially in citrus fruits. Lemon contains almost 8% of its dry weight of this acid. In terms of properties citric acid is crystalline at room temperature and has high solubility in water.
Citric acid is widely being used in various industries since the years of 1860 by the Italian citrus industry as an effective food additive for more than a century. Since, citric acid is naturally present in various fruits and citrus fruits, the isolation process is expensive. Hence to provide a cost-effective solution it is produced commercially. Citric acid is used in food and non-alcoholic beverages, confectionery and medicine, alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, kitchen cleaners and removing of rust from steel.
The citric acid market is valued at approximately USD 2 billion and is expected to grow due to its use in food and beverage industries. Among the various market segments the food and beverage industry contribute more than 50% of the market share. This is followed by pharmaceuticals, cosmetics & personal care, Detergents and others. The market is expected to grow over the period due to increased popularity and application in the ice-cream and similar dietary supplements.
Citric acid and its impacts on food industry
When it is about processed, packaged and any other form of food, citric acid is present everywhere. Citric acid is the most common preservative and flavor enhancer that is used in veggies, salsa, hummus, even cleaning supplies and similar beauty personal care products. It is also the most commonly criticized additive.
The health conscious people are constantly debating about the health benefits of use of citric acid. The debate is between the organically produced acids and those produced through alternative means. The overall process of isolation of citric acid from natural fruits is a costly affair. Furthermore, bulk production of citric acid is not possible from the traditional form. The citric acid produced in labs are profoundly more in quantities and is cost effective too. For some people the thought of consuming, lab produced ingredients in everything like chicken and juices can be worrisome.
The food and beverage industry contributes maximum share to the citric acid market. So it is important to understand the positive and negative impacts of citric acid over various food products.
Since childhood the various benefits of consuming food that naturally contain citric acid are told to all. It acts an antioxidant and protects the human body from damaging the free radicals. Consumption of adequate antioxidants helps in improving health by prevention of life-threatening aliments. Furthermore, citric acid is an alkalizing agent that helps in reduction of acidity in your body, it functions by re-stabilizing the presence of acidic substance caused due to large amount of processed food or stress. Citric acid is also said to have powerful alkalizing powers that helps in prevention of certain types of kidney stones. In parts of Asia-pacific, and other countries drinking of beer is said to cure the kidney stones.
Artificial citric acid can be created, with the help of certain sugars (corn starch and sugar beets) treated with a fungus Aspergillus niger. This is one of the most popular production methods and is additive in a way.
There are number of filtration processes that is carried out during the process. However, some people still believe the microscopic waste products left behind by the fungus, (mycotoxins) are not eliminated fully. Health experts believe that inhaling these on a regular basis can cause respiratory disorders, allergies and often lead to chronic illness. Recently health experts have also mentioned that citric acid in beauty and cleaning products might trigger asthma symptoms. Additionally the sugar added are mostly genetically modified organisms. It is recommended that those who are prone to above health issues should be cautious. One should check the label for contents in the product before consumption of the same.
Though there is a lot of doubts with respect to artificially procured citric acid, there is no definitive study that shows an interlink between additive and related health problems. A recent study had mentioned that citric acid is not harmful to the overall functioning of brain and liver. However, for those who want to have a diet with limited additives it is advised to reduce the consumption of citric acid in the form of packaged and processed foods. However, the natural source of citric acid, i.e. a glass of lemon water is always better.