Citric acid is by far one of the most common food additives listed in the ingredients of various products. While it may seem logical to assume that citric acid is naturally sourced from citrus fruits, this is not the case.
Citric acid naturally occurs in fruits such as lemons, oranges, and limes. The original form of citric acid was first isolated from lemon juice in 1784. But the form of citric acid widely used in food production today is not the same.
More than two million tons of citric acid are manufactured every year. It is used widely as an acidifier, as a flavoring, in cleaning agents, pesticides, and a variety of other uses.
(Manufactured) Citric Acid
The citric acid used in food production is actually manufactured citric acid (MCA). In this manufacturing process, sugars derived from genetically modified (GMO) corn are provided to black mold, which then undergoes fermentation to produce manufactured citric acid.
Pfizers Role in Manufacturing Citric Acid
This significant turning point in the history of this common food additive dates back to 1919, when Pfizer introduced a method for producing manufactured citric acid (MCA). This process eliminated the use of traditional, natural citric acid extraction and initiated the widespread use of a synthetic alternative. Pfizer’s questionable approach centered around a fascinating microbial process, one that relied on a particular strain of microorganism – a mutant form of Aspergillus niger, often referred to as “black mold.”
This approach to citric acid production involved cultivating this unique mutant strain of Aspergillus niger under controlled conditions. The microorganism’s natural ability to ferment sugars was harnessed in a way that allowed it to synthesize citric acid efficiently. With this new process, the historical method of extracting citric acid directly from fruits like lemons or other citrus were deemed unnecessary and inefficient.
While this innovative process revolutionized citric acid production, it also introduced a new dimension of concern. Aspergillus niger, black mold, is associated with a multitude of health risks. The potential for remnants of this microorganism to persist in the final product raised questions about its safety, particularly regarding its consumption by individuals who regularly encounter citric acid in various products.
Citric acid is made through a process that involves using certain types of mold and sugars. Here’s a simplified explanation:
- Choosing Mold: First, a special mold called “Aspergillus niger” is selected. This mold is crucial for making citric acid.
- Feeding the Mold: The selected mold is then fed with sugars. These sugars are often obtained from things like genetically modified corn.
- Fermentation: The mold eats these sugars and, during this process, produces citric acid.
- Harvesting: Citric acid is produced as a byproduct of the waste expelled by the mold. The citric acid is then separated from the waste.
- Isolating Citric Acid: The liquid that contains the citric acid is treated with other substances to isolate and purify the citric acid.
So, in simple terms, citric acid is made by feeding mold with sugars, which it then turns into citric acid. This citric acid is then extracted and purified for various uses, like in food, cleaning products, and more.
Aspergillus Niger (Black Mold)
Aspergillus niger is associated with systemic inflammatory issues affecting the respiratory, gastrointestinal, neurological, and musculoskeletal systems. Due to the potential for fragments of Aspergillus niger to find their way into the final product of manufactured citric acid, consumers of products containing citric acid are constantly ingesting this toxic inflammatory substance. Research has shown that even with high-heat processing, Aspergillus niger can still provoke an inflammatory response.
Citric acid is not limited to food; it is also added to beverages, pharmaceuticals, supplements, cosmetics, personal care products, cleaning items, and various everyday goods. Given its pervasive presence, the average person is likely regularly exposed to citric acid unless they consciously avoid it.
How Citric Acid Bypassed Scientific Testing
Manufactured citric acid, also known as MCA, became a prominent ingredient in processed foods only a few years after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was established. During this period, the FDA did not yet have the testing requirements and safety regulations as they do today. The leniency for food additives and approval in the early 20th century presented a different scenario than the modern day FDA we are familiar with.
At that time, the understanding of the long-term effects of food additives on human consumption was limited. The concept of in-depth scientific studies and comprehensive safety assessments, which we now associate with FDA approval, was far from established. Instead, many food additives, including MCA, were granted a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) status based on conventional wisdom, historical usage, and a general lack of immediate adverse effects.
In essence, MCA secured its place in the food industry not through exhaustive scientific scrutiny but through historical precedent and the assumption that it was safe for human consumption. This was an era when the regulatory framework was still evolving, and the emphasis was more on the functionality and economic benefits of additives in food production.
As an increasing number of individuals experience digestive issues and chronic inflammatory conditions, it’s crucial to understand the potential negative effects of the myriad additives used in the food industry to produce their processed products. The point has been reached where processed and packaged foods could more accurately be described as chemical products rather than food items.
Health Risks Associated with Citric Acid
Manufactured citric acid (MCA) has been a subject of concern due to the potential health risks associated with its production and consumption. Here are some of the health risks associated with manufactured citric acid:
- Residual Microorganisms: The production process of MCA involves the use of a mutant strain of Aspergillus niger, commonly known as “black mold.” Despite efforts to control and sterilize the process, there is a risk that residual microorganisms, including the black mold itself, could find their way into the final product. This raises concerns about the potential health risks of consuming these microorganisms, which may lead to allergic reactions or other health issues.
- Inflammatory Response: Aspergillus niger, the black mold used in MCA production, is associated with systemic inflammatory issues. The consumption of products containing traces of this mold may trigger an inflammatory response in individuals. Inflammation, when chronic, has been linked to various health problems, including gastrointestinal issues, respiratory problems, and musculoskeletal discomfort.
- Allergic Reactions: Most individuals are sensitive or allergic to black mold and its byproducts. Ingesting MCA with traces of Aspergillus niger may lead to allergic reactions, which can range from mild discomfort to more severe symptoms in sensitive individuals.
- Digestive Disturbances: Consumption of products containing MCA may lead to digestive disturbances, including bloating, gas, and irregular bowel movements. These digestive issues can be particularly problematic for individuals with preexisting digestive conditions.
- Potential Long-Term Effects: While MCA is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) based on historical use and traditional knowledge, the long-term effects of consuming MCA have not been comprehensively studied. As a result, there is a lack of scientific data on its prolonged use and potential health implications over time.
- Overexposure: As citric acid is used in a wide range of food and non-food products, individuals might unknowingly be exposed to MCA in multiple aspects of their daily lives. This raises concerns about the cumulative exposure to MCA and the potential health risks associated with its widespread use.
Cleaning and Chelating Agent
Citric acid exhibits excellent chelating properties, effectively binding metals to render them soluble. It is used to combat limescale buildup in boilers and evaporators. In the realm of water treatment, citric acid enhances the performance of soaps and laundry detergents by chelating metals in hard water, allowing these cleaners to function optimally without the need for water softening.
Citric acid is a crucial ingredient in some bathroom and kitchen cleaning solutions, and even a six percent citric acid solution can remove hard water stains from glass without requiring scrubbing. It is also employed in shampoos to eliminate wax and coloring residues from hair. Historically, citric acid played a pivotal role in the Manhattan Project by serving as the eluant for total ion-exchange separation of lanthanides. In industry, it is used to dissolve rust from steel and passivate stainless steels.
Is it Safe to Consume in Food?
Citric acid serves as both a flavoring and preservative in the food and beverage industry, predominantly in soft drinks and confectionery products.
Despite its status of being generally recognized as safe (GRAS) when consumed in normal quantities, there are a multitude of health concerns to consider.
- Dental Health: Citric acid can erode tooth enamel over time, especially when consumed in high concentrations or as part of sugary, acidic beverages. It’s important to practice good dental hygiene and limit the consumption of highly acidic foods and drinks.
- Allergies: While rare, some individuals may be sensitive or allergic to citric acid, which can lead to allergic reactions. If you suspect an allergy, consult a healthcare professional.
- Digestive Discomfort: High levels of citric acid may cause digestive discomfort in some individuals, such as acid reflux or heartburn. It’s advisable for those with digestive issues to monitor their citric acid intake.
- Kidney Stones: In rare cases, excessive consumption of citric acid, in the form of lemonade or supplements, may increase the risk of kidney stones. However, it’s more common for citric acid to help prevent certain types of kidney stones.
- Interactions with Medications: Citric acid may interact with certain medications, so it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider if you have concerns or are taking specific medications.
- Processed Foods: Citric acid is commonly found in processed and packaged foods. A diet high in processed foods may lead to various health issues, including obesity and metabolic syndrome.
In an era where an increasing number of individuals experience digestive issues and chronic inflammatory conditions, it’s crucial to understand the potential negative effects of additives used in the food industry. The point has been reached where processed and packaged foods could more accurately be described as chemical products rather than food items.
While scrutinizing ingredient lists is important, an even better approach is to consistently seek out and consume real, whole foods that don’t necessitate an ingredient list, such as grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, organic vegetables and fruits, sprouted nuts and seeds, and spring water in glass containers.