Does citric acid come from lemon?

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Citric acid is a common ingredient found in numerous food and beverage products, prized for its sour taste and versatile applications. While its name might suggest a direct association with lemons, the story behind citric acid is more complex and fascinating. In this blog, we will explore the origin and development of citric acid, shedding light on its sources, production methods, and diverse uses.

The origin and development of citric acid

Citric acid, which has the chemical formula C₆H₈O₇, is naturally present in various fruits, including lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, berries, pineapples, and tomatoes. These fruits are known for their acidic taste, primarily due to the presence of citric acid.

In fact,the discovery and development of citric acid can be traced back to the late 18th century.

In 1784, the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele isolated citric acid from lemon juice for the first time. This breakthrough marked the initial recognition of citric acid as a distinct compound.

Later, in 1893, the American chemist James Currie discovered the industrial potential of citric acid production through mold fermentation.

It wasn’t until 1931 that citric acid was artificially produced through fermentation—a process which uses certain types of fungi or bacteria to break down carbohydrates into various acids. This method is still widely used today as it provides an economical way for manufacturers to produce large amounts of citric acid. It is usually manufactured in liquid or powder form with a sour taste.

Industrial Production

The commercial production of citric acid is not solely reliant on extracting it from fruits. In fact, the majority of citric acid used globally is produced through an industrial fermentation process. Here’s a simplified overview of how it’s done:

a) Mold Cultivation: A strain of the fungus Aspergillus niger is cultivated in a controlled environment. This mold strain has the ability to produce high levels of citric acid.

b) Fermentation Process: The mold is grown on a substrate that provides nutrients for its growth. Typically, it involves the fermentation of glucose or sucrose derived from sources like corn, molasses, or sugarcane.

c) Citric Acid Extraction: After the fermentation process, the citric acid is extracted from the fermented solution through various techniques, including filtration, precipitation, and crystallization.

Diverse Applications:

Culinary Delights:

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Citric acid is a beloved ingredient in the culinary world, lending its tangy flavor to an array of dishes and beverages. As a natural acidulant, it enhances the taste profile of various food products, including jams, jellies, and carbonated beverages. Moreover, it acts as a preservative, helping to extend the shelf life of packaged foods and prevent spoilage.

Beauty industry:

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The beauty industry has long recognized the benefits of citric acid for skincare and hair care. In skincare, citric acid functions as an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), promoting gentle exfoliation and improving skin texture. It also aids in pH balancing, making it an ideal ingredient for toners and facial cleansers. Additionally, citric acid’s chelating properties help in formulating effective hair care products, removing mineral buildup and restoring the natural shine of the hair.

Household Cleanliness:

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Citric acid proves its mettle as an eco-friendly alternative to harsh cleaning agents. Its acidic nature makes it a formidable weapon against limescale and mineral deposits, commonly found in kettles, coffee makers, and bathroom fixtures. With citric acid, you can effortlessly descale these surfaces, ensuring a sparkling clean without resorting to harmful chemicals.

Pharmaceutical Applications:

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The pharmaceutical industry benefits from citric acid’s diverse properties. It acts as a pH adjuster and buffering agent, ensuring optimal pH levels in various medications. Citric acid is also employed as an excipient in tablets and effervescent formulations, enhancing their stability and dissolution properties.

Industrial and Technical Uses:

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Beyond the realms of everyday life, citric acid plays a pivotal role in industrial and technical applications. It serves as an efficient chelating agent, facilitating metal cleaning and corrosion prevention. Citric acid’s ability to complex with metals makes it valuable in industrial water treatment, reducing scale formation and improving efficiency.


Citric acid, while present in lemons and other citrus fruits, is not exclusively derived from them. The majority of citric acid used today is produced through industrial fermentation processes. Its sour taste and versatile properties make it a valuable ingredient in a wide range of applications across the food, pharmaceutical, and cleaning industries.

Overall, citric acid has been an indispensable part of the modern world for centuries and this trend looks to be continuing into the future. Its versatility and availability make it a great choice for both industrial and home use—all from lemons! So next time you reach for that bottle of lemon or lime juice, take a moment to appreciate not only its refreshing taste but also its unique contribution to history. With so many applications in both food production and cosmetics, there’s no doubt that citric acid will continue to play an important role in our everyday lives.