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What is Citric Acid?
Citric acid is a weak organic acid that is most commonly found in citrus fruits. It is both naturally occurring and also synthetically added to foods and other products. But, because it is an intermediate in the citric acid cycle it occurs naturally in the metabolism process of all aerobic organisms. It has the molecular formula C6H807 or CH2COOH-C(OH)-CH2COOH. It has been used in the canning and jarring industry for over 100 years. Citric Acid can be used in a variety of ways including preserving, flavoring, and as an emulsifying agent. Citric Acid is one of the most common food additives currently used on the market. Adding food grade Citric Acid to canned, jarred, or even frozen foods can help prevent botulism by preventing bacterial colonization. When sold commercially, it is sold in a dry powder form that looks a lot like regular table salt.
What Does USP Mean?
The USP designation is important to look out for when purchasing products to be used in food or medical grade products. USP stands for the United States Pharmacopeia and designates that a certain product has been manufactured using a standard, approved, and uniform process. This designation also guarantees that they have undergone the proper testing and ensures that they have met certain standards. Any product that holds the USP designation is guaranteed to meet necessary identity, potency, purity, and performance standards.
Citric Acid has a long and interesting history. It was first discovered based on the scientific discoveries of Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1784. However, it did not start being used for industrial purposes until the end of the 19th century. During the First World War, American scientist James Currie, learned how to make this acid out of mold. Large companies like Pfizer quickly picked up the process and started mass-producing this form of acid to be used in a variety of ways.
Uses in Foods and Drinks
Even though food grade Citric Acid is comparatively a weak acid, it is one of the stronger acids that is considered safe for human consumption. It can be used in almost any type of food for flavoring and preservation. Further, it can be used as an emulsifier in high fat content foods like ice cream. When acting as an emulsifier it keeps the foods the proper consistency by preventing the fats from separating. In addition, because it so closely resembles table salt in its appearance it is commonly used by chefs as a replacement for lemon juice or vinegar.
Citric acid can be used in two ways in household cleaning products; first as a buffering agent, and second as a chelating agent. Buffering occurs when a compound added to another substance either increases or decreases the acidic or basic quality of the liquid. In this way it can help control the pH level of the end product, allowing for slight manipulation based on the desired use. When used as a buffering agent, Citric Acid helps to maintain the pH of the cleaning solution to make it most suitable for cleaning and making the product safe to use.
On the other hand, chelating is a process that binds metal partials together making them soluble. When used as a chelating agent it binds metal partials found in hard water to each other producing a foam that allows for the easy cleanup of hard substances without requiring extra time for softening. This allows for easy cleanup of hard to clean substances like hard water stains, and even rust.
Because of Citric Acid’s acidity level, it is also effective at killing bacteria. This means that in addition to be effective at cleaning hard substances it is also great for mold, mildew, and soap scum. Citric Acid can be found in a variety of cleaning products such as auto, metal, oven, all-purpose, soap scum removers, dishwasher, bathroom, carpet, dish soap, laundry soap, stain removers, and dishwasher rinse aids. Citric Acid is a very versatile compound that can been added to almost any product for safe and more effective cleaning.
Citric Acid is used in many cosmetic products and it can be made safe for even the most sensitive consumers including babies. Further, it is safe for use in products like make-up, lipstick, bath products, soaps, detergents, hair dye, and coloring. In the cosmetic industry, Citric Acid is commonly used as an acidulent. This means that it is added to various creams, gels, and liquids in small amounts to make them slightly more acidic. Citric Acid is also used in anti-aging creams to help promote the shedding and re-growth of skin cells, speeding up a process the body already does naturally. For this reason, Citric Acid is one of the main ingredients in skin and facial peels.
Health and Safety
The environmental protection agency has found that Citric Acid is generally recognized as safe. Since it occurs organically in nature and is biodegradable it is also safe for the environment.
Even though our bodies produce Citric Acid in the metabolism process, naturally occurring Citric Acid cannot be replaced by its additive form. When it is used as a food additive it enters our blood stream during digestion and is passed through our bodies as waste. Only a small amount of the additive is absorbed by the liver making any possible negative effects very minimal.