Citric acid is a weak organic acid with the formula C6H8O7. It is a natural preservative/conservative which occurs naturally in citrus fruits and is also used to add an acidic or sour taste to foods and drinks. In biochemistry, the conjugate base of citric acid, citrate, is important as an intermediate in the citric acid cycle, which occurs in the metabolism of all aerobic organisms. It consists of 3 carboxyl (R-COOH) groups.
Citric acid is a commodity chemical, and more than a million tons are produced every year by fermentation. It is used mainly as an acidifier, as a flavoring, and as a chelating agent.
At room temperature, citric acid is a white crystalline powder. It can exist either in ananhydrous (water-free) form or as a monohydrate. The anhydrous form crystallizes from hot water, while the monohydrate forms when citric acid is crystallized from cold water. The monohydrate can be converted to the anhydrous form by heating above 78 °C. Citric acid also dissolves in absolute (anhydrous) ethanol (76 parts of citric acid per 100 parts of ethanol) at 15 °C.
In chemical structure, citric acid shares the properties of other carboxylic acids. When heated above 175 °C, it decomposes through the loss of carbon dioxide and water (seedecarboxylation).Citric acid is a slightly stronger acid than typical carboxylic acids because the anion can be stabilized by intramolecular hydrogen-bonding from other protic groups on citric acid.Citric acid is hygroscopic.
The dominant use of citric acid is as a flavoring and preservative in food and beverages, especially soft drinks. Within the European Union it is denoted by E number E330. Citrate salts of various metals are used to deliver those minerals in a biologically available form in many dietary supplements. The buffering properties of citrates are used to control pH in household cleaners and pharmaceuticals.
Citric acid can be added to ice cream as an emulsifying agent to keep fats from separating, to caramel to prevent sucrose crystallization, or to recipes in place of fresh lemon juice. Citric acid is used with sodium bicarbonate in a wide range of effervescent formulae, both for ingestion (e.g., powders and tablets) and for personal care (e.g., bath salts, bath bombs, and cleaning of grease). Citric acid is also often used in cleaning products and sodas or fizzy drinks.
Citric acid sold in a dry powdered form is commonly sold in markets and groceries as "sour salt", due to its physical resemblance to table salt. It has use in culinary applications where an acid is needed for either its chemical properties or for its sour flavor, but a dry ingredient is needed and additional flavors are unwanted (e.g., instead of vinegar or lemon juice).
Citric acid is widely used as a pH adjusting agent in creams and gels of all kinds. In this role, it is classified in most jurisdictions as a processing aid and so does not need to be listed on ingredient lists.
Citric acid is an alpha hydroxy acid and used as an active ingredient in chemical peels.