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Citric Acid: A Common Food Additive With An Uncommon Source

Citric acid is one of the most common food additives found on ingredient lists. It might be tempting to dismiss citric acid as a natural substance that comes from citrus fruit, but unfortunately that’s not the case.


While citric acid is indeed found in fruits like lemons, oranges, grapefruit and limes, and was originally isolated from lemon juice in 1784, this is not the form of citric acid that is used in food products worldwide today.

The citric acid that is used is manufactured citric acid (MCA). Pfizer began producing manufactured citric acid in 1919 through a microbial process involving a mutant strain of Aspergillus niger, also known as black mold. The present day process of creating manufactured citric acid involves feeding sugars derived from GMO corn to black mold, which then ferments to form manufactured citric acid.

Aspergillus niger is associated with systemic inflammatory issues, including respiratory, gastrointestinal, neurological and musculoskeletal. Due to the potential for fragments of Aspergillus niger to make their way into the finished product of manufactured citric acid, this toxic inflammatory substance is likely being ingested by consumers of products containing citric acid. Even with high-heat processing to kill it, research has shown Aspergillus niger can still elicit an inflammatory response.

Citric acid isn’t only found in foods, however; it’s also added to beverages, pharmaceuticals, supplements, cosmetics, personal care items, cleaning products and more everyday items. Due to its ubiquitous presence, the average person is likely regularly exposed to citric acid, unless they are knowingly avoiding it.

Because manufactured citric acid was in use before the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) came into existence, it was granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status, even though no scientific testing has ever been conducted on its long-term consumption by humans.

As more and more people develop digestive problems and chronic inflammatory diseases, it’s important to be aware of the adverse effects the endless list of additives used by the food industry to manufacture their food-like products can have on our body. It’s getting to the point where processed and packaged foods could more accurately be described as chemical products than food products.

Reading ingredient lists is critical, but an even better approach is to always endeavor to only buy real, whole foods that don’t even have an ingredient list, like grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, organic vegetables and fruit, sprouted nuts and seeds, and spring water in glass containers.