Citric acid is a white powder used to give a sour taste to beverages and food products. It is also used as a preservative to prevent spoilage because it increases the acidity of products and many bacteria that cause food spoilage are unable to grow in an acidic environment. It is also used in dietary supplements because the body absorbs minerals better when they are attached to citric acid.
How is Citric Acid made?
Citric acid is found naturally in citrus fruits, but producing citric acid from citrus fruits is very expensive and the demand for citric acid is greater than the available supply of citrus fruits. Therefore, when you see citric acid on a product label, you can be sure that it is a powder that was made from the fermentation of sugars.
A culture of Aspergillus niger (a fungus commonly used in the pharmaceutical industry) is fed with sugar and metabolizes it into a liquid solution. The solution is mixed with lime (calcium hydroxide) which causes citrate salt to come out of the solution (precipitate). The citrate salt is then treated with sulfuric acid to make useable citric acid.
The sugars that are used for the citric acid can be derived from cane sugar, corn or wheat. In the United States, citric acid is most often derived from corn since it is a cheap, subsidized crop. In South America cane sugar is often used due to the low sugar prices, while in Europe wheat sweeteners are commonly used.
Is Citric Acid Kosher?
Every fermentation process causes kosher concerns due to the ingredients that are used to make the fermentation more effective. OK Kosher recommends using citric acid only with a reliable kosher certification.
Citric acid from cane sugar can be kosher for Passover, wheat based citric acid is chometz, and the corn based citric acid is considered kitniyos shenishtanah (changed to a different entity during the process).
The OK does not rely on the leniency of kitniyos shenishtanah and you can be sure that the source of the citric acid is cane sugar when you see the OK-P symbol on a product containing citric acid.