Citric acid often finds its way into items that taste sour. They can be common additives in ice creams, jams, jellies, etc. It is popularly used as a souring agent. It helps fix the taste of the dish by completing its flavor palette with a tinge of sourness.
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Is Citric Acid Vegan?
Citric acid is a common ingredient in sour fruits like oranges, sweet limes, limes, etc. With the production and source of extraction being hidden for many spices and additive products, many vegans often ponder, is citric acid vegan. Though the origin of citric acid is primarily citrus fruits, there is a possibility that the process used in obtaining the same involves non-vegan methods.
Our food is incomplete without the addition of aromatic spices that make the food flavorsome and delicious. Without the magic of additive ingredients, food will taste highly bland, reducing your appetite significantly. Read on to learn the answer to the question of is citric acid is vegan or not.
What Is Citric Acid?
Citric acid is a type of organic acid found in nature. It is an essential requirement in all aerobic metabolic processes. However, its abundance can be seen in citrus foods more commonly.
This acid’s nature is weak – if it comes in contact with skin, it does not have corrosive effects. This acid has been a part of our diet since time immemorial. It has multiple uses. It can be used as an additive, a preservative, a souring agent, and an emulsifying agent.
It is also known for its preservative properties. Therefore, you can find citric acid on the labels of many canned and preserved foods. It helps in preventing botulism.
Citric acid became known to mankind as early as the eighth century. But its isolation was first carried out in 1784 by Carl Wilhelm Scheele from lemon juice extract. The large-scale production of citric acid began in the late 19th century and was sourced from Italian lemons.
This process of obtaining citric acid from Italian lemons was completely halted during World War I. However, the process was revived again by James Curie in 1917. But this time, the source of the acid was not lemons but mold. By 1919, industry giants like Pfizer had started the production of citric acid from the mold.
Present-Day Production of Citric Acid
With the industrialization of the food industry, it became a regular thing to upgrade everything. This meant an increased rate of production at lower rates. The idea was to provide customers with the same product at cheaper prices. Replacing the source of citric acid from lemon to mold is a far less expensive process.
The mold used for the large-scale production of citric acid is Aspergillus niger, also known as the common black mold. You can observe this mold’s growth over moist and damn places left unattended for a prolonged period.
Aspergillus is quite a notorious type of microorganism. Some of its strains can cause severe sickness only by inhalation. It can increase to the extent that an individual might end up losing his/her life.
The Aspergillus niger strain, however, is not that dangerous. Even though it does not have lethal qualities, it can be problematic for immunocompromised people. If the spores are inhaled, they can cause severe problems.
These traits of the mold might make it a less pleasing candidate for the production of food ingredients. But the cost of production is so low that the overall manufacturing cost also goes down. Therefore, the popularity of black mold as a citrus source increased significantly, replacing the natural candidates.
How Is Citric Acid Produced?
As mentioned earlier, Aspergillus niger can be used for the mass-scale production of citric acid. The black mold used efficiently and economically can convert any sugar into citric acid.
In the reaction chambers, the molds are fed with sucrose or glucose derived from corn starch. The black mold is made to grow on this solution of glucose or sucrose to produce a citric acid solution. The corn used to extract corn starch is often the genetically modified version.
Once the citric acid solution is obtained, it is filtered out from the mold. The resulting solution is precipitated out from the liquid and processed to obtain the pure and consumable form. It is made into a usable additive with the help of lime and sulfuric acid.
Is Mass-Produced Citric Acid Vegan?
Many people, especially those ones having vegan as a dietary restriction, often show inhibition in buying mass-produced products. This is because the entire production process and the different items used in sourcing other ingredients are not known. Sometimes, big companies hide this information to keep the sales number high in particular demographics.
However, with citric acid, there is no hidden information that you need to be worried about. Aspergillus niger, the mold used for citric acid production, falls in the vegan product category. In actuality, Aspergillus niger is a type of fungus. The fungus is considered to be a vegan ingredient.
Moreover, the mold is used as a production unit for citric acid extracted from it. Even if you have inhibitions about consuming A. niger, you are not eating it; you are just eating an extract from it. The food source for the production of the acid is corn starch, which is a plant-based product.
The only concern is that industrially produced citric acid uses a genetically modified variant of corn. Genetically modified variants can bring major health concerns, which is problematic for many.
Different Sources of Citric Acid
You don’t have to be disappointed if you are still not convinced by the idea of industrially produced mold being vegan. Citric acid is literally the easiest to obtain. It is available in a variety of naturally occurring fruits and vegetables at different concentrations.
You can source it naturally from any food product and use the same for adding some tang to your food. Lemons, sweet limes, chilies, raspberries, etc., are popular sources of concentrated citric acid.
Is GMO-Produced Citric Acid Healthy?
The topic of genetically modified crops has always been controversial. People often show some resistance when it comes to adding GMOs to their food.
If you feel you cannot consume genetically modified produce, you can also opt for non-GMO-based citric acid.
Every GMO-obtained product is mentioned on the label of the packaging. You can check for the same and avoid purchasing. You can also opt for citric acid produced from sugar cane instead of GMO corn.
Is Consumption of Citric Acid Harmful?
Citric acid is a very mild acid that we regularly consume in some other forms. It is a popular additive with no significant health concerns associated with its consumption.
However, people often complain of tooth enamel erosion because of excessive consumption of citric acid. Some people might even be allergic to citric acid, which triggers the body’s response.
If you are allergic to black mold or corn starch, you must check the label to see how the acid concentrate has been sourced.
To Sum It Up
Citric acid has become an essential ingredient in the American kitchen. The taste it adds to the food is quite delicious and leaves you wanting more. Being a vegan, you don’t have to worry about citric acid being a deceptively non-vegan product.
Even if you have a hard time accepting molds as a vegan product, you can still enjoy the sour taste of the acid by sourcing it from somewhere else.