Twelve Quick Facts about Citric Acid, Ascorbic Acid, and Vitamin C

Lemons, whole and in sections.

Image via Wikipedia

Many people reading product ingredient lists see these three names quite often. What’s the connection between them, and why do they appear so often in processed foods?

What you need to know:

1. Ascorbic acid (E300) and vitamin C are one and the same, and are an essential nutrient for humans.

2. Citric acid (E330) and ascorbic acid both occur naturally in citrus fruits, but there is no vitamin C in citric acid.

3. Citric acid is responsible for the tart and sour taste of lemons, and to a lesser extent other citrus fruits and some berries.

4. Contrary to popular belief, the best source for vitamin C is not oranges. Better sources are kiwis, bell peppers, broccoli, and brussel sprouts.

5. Chemically, the only difference between ascorbic acid and citric acid is one additional oxygen atom in citric acid.

6. Both Ascorbic acid and citric acid are used extensively as food additives because they are very cheap to manufacture artificially.

7. Citric acid is mainly used to add a tangy sour flavor to soft drinks (50% of world production).

8. Unfortunately, vitamin C is very easily lost from fruits and vegetables when processed. That’s why in many products it is reintroduced as an additive.

9. Citric acid is manufactured through the use of Aspergillus Niger, a mold that feeds on cheap corn syrup glucose.

10. Vitamin C tastes very bitter, just like most vitamins. In some cases Citric acid is used to mask the bitter flavor of vitamin C pills.

11. Citric acid makes it easier for the body to absorb some minerals. For example, calcium citrate is sometimes added to orange juice.

12. Ascorbic acid in lemon juice is what keeps cut fruits and vegetables from turning brown. That’s why commercial food processing it is used as an antioxidant preservative.

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  • Fazal Majid

    Another interesting fact is that China produces 80% of the world’s ascorbic acid, having driven competition out, with questionable food safety standards at best. Only one Western company still makes ascorbic acid, in Scotland.

    • danwat1234

      Just like China mines just about all the Neodymium of the world, and they want it themselves for battery packs and electric motors of electric motorcycles and automobiles. How will the electronics industry in the US survive when China decides to keep it all to themselves?

      • CountyRat

        By using alternative battery technology. Humans are pretty cleaver about working around technical limitations.

  • Ravichandran

    I want to know the ratio of Citric Acid Added with One Liter of Water?

    • Bobsmith


      • barbie

        just let him know, when you don’t know the answer, just be a reader.

  • Randy

    At about the age of 15 I acquired an allergy toward citric acid.
    Anytime I consumed anything with high citric concentrate I would get cold sores on my mouth. After process of elimination, I ruled out that it was citric acid. I can eat a pineapple and the very next day a cold sore will erupt. I can drink a few Pepsi’s and a cold sore will appear. It was very hard to go through life with this allergy, as I love citric fruits. The interesting thing is I found that I can take Vitamin C with citric bioflavonoids and never get cold sores. Also if I drink coke that has phosforic acid instead of citric acid I am fine.

    I thought I would share these comments in case anyone else had this problem.

    • Hi

      Randy, you have oral herpes. It’s not an allergy. Oral herpes outbreaks can be triggered by diet and stress.

    • Dr.Doolittle

      Yes it is the citric acid trying to kick the herpes out of your body and that is why it flares up.These viruses or fungi can live in your body for all your life and this is what the doctor’s will not tell you.

  • Megz!!!!

    Cool. I always thought they were all the same thing. Food can be so confusing sometimes!!! :D

  • Onlyme


  • Al delami

    I want to know that the sour taste not means vit. c , the dried lime has asour taste but has not vit. c , because it is dried. please help me to know that

    • sonali

      sour taste means citric acid and citric acid is not vit c

  • Kitty

    When I take anything that has citric acid or ascorbic acid, like vitamins, food supplements, perscription medicines, etc., it always bives me a really bad rash on my bottom.  Does this happen to anyone else out there?  If so, what do you do about it?

    • Snap

      I recommend staying away from it.  I took a Vit. C supplement for 3 months before I figured out that it was giving me hives.  Now I am allergic to ascorbic acid (man-made Vit. C), citric acid, coloring in pills…just to name a few.  If it is a trigger for you TRY to stay away from it.  I have been to numerous dr.s & still no relief.

      • Snap

        Also – at first I only had an issue with citric acid when added to a product such as diet coke.  Now I cannot even have lemon in my water.  As for ascorbic acid / vitamin C, I cannot have that in any packaged form.  I can tolerate small amounts from nature.  I have hives all over my body right now due to eating at a restaurant UGH

  • Channah

    I would like to take issue with #10.
    I recently bought a large amount of powdered ascorbic acid to use as a vitamin supplement.  I take it dissolved in water.  I find that it does not taste “bitter”, but rather very sour (I take 6 grams at a time).

    • Aquaria

      Your powder definitely has other flavors added (most likely citrus acid) to mask the bitterness.

      Try to keep up.

      • Maria

        Actually powder vitamin C is the purest form at all, there are no additives or flavors added to it. It is sour, not bitter. Sodium ascorbate is bitter.

    • Lori Holtorf

      I agree – vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an acid and acids taste sour (that’s how your tastebuds work, peeps). I have tasted USP (i.e. pharmaceutical grade purity) ascorbic acid, and it tastes sour. Additives are not needed to make it taste that way. It’s possible that salts of ascorbic acid (like Sodium ascorbate) might taste bitter. And certainly the “bioflavonoids” that are often found in vitamin C containing-foods might taste bitter, but not Vitamin C.

  • Wehrli4

    Thanks I’ve learned a lot . You have no idea what you put in your mouth, unless you read the fact.

  • GWB

    Isn’t it better to take an organic whole food based vitamin c rather than a ascorbic acid which seems to me to not be natural? Am I wrong?

    • Whisperingsage

      One would have eat 10 oranges (60 mg each) to get even at least 500 mg (660 to be exact) . I take at least 6000 mg a day, and many docs rx at least 2000 mg a day for heart pts. That would be cumbersome even for those who love c containing foods.

    • Aquaria

      You are wrong. You’d have to eat a pound or so of lemons, every single day, to equal supplements. If you’re having to take vitamin C, you’re usually not in a state to be eating that many lemons a day. Most patients wouldn’t be able to do that, anyway. They’d get so sick of the taste of the high-vitamin C foods that they couldn’t stand them anymore. And then you’re back to square one.

      Further, eating organic isn’t always an option. Organic anything is typically deadly to people with compromised immune systems, since it tends to carry bacteria or even viruses that kill the immuno-suppressed, or at least cause long, painful hospital stays, IF the infection is caught in time.

      I wouldn’t eat that filth if you paid me, but have at it. The planet is overpopulated, as it is.

      • GWB

        Seems you misunderstood my question. I AM talking about supplements—WHOLE FOOD supplements, not fresh fruit. The question is, which is better, a WHOLE FOOD supplement or taking ascorbic acid? What’s so natural about ascorbic acid?

        You said, “Organic foods is “typically deadly to people with compromised immune systems”. What!? As opposed to GMO chemical filled foods which have been proven to mess up the gut and the immune system? You might want to read a bit more about GMO poisoned food before you condemn organic foods. I’ll stick to organic fruits and vegetables—thank you very much.

        • Jawaid Bazyar


          Ascorbic acid is precisely what is in those fruits and vegetables.

          A chemical compound such as ascorbic acid is exactly, precisely the same atoms in the same configuration whether it is created inside a fruit or created inside a factory.

          • Desi Bunsie

            But the manufactured version from mould contains mycotoxins and other contaminants from the source. Nothing is 100% pure, even after chemical extraction.

      • Truth Matters

        Lying paid troll!

      • disqus_J9GJjilcxq

        There is no excuse for being arrogant, critical and rude to a nice person. Furthermore, you are very ignorant regarding organic food and a compromised immune system.

  • m.v. joshi

    Can we use citric acid as a substitute for vit c during summer stress i.e. summer i plan to work out in some species.

    • Fooducate

      No. It’s not the same thing.

  • maggie

    I heard taht ascorbic acid was synthetic. i ust Thorne vitamen C for health isses,but I hate the thought of it being synthetic. I am trying to heal my body. Is there a better souce or supplement vitamen C that is better aqnd affordable?

    • TiagoR2

      There’s nothing inherently wrong with something being synthetic.

      • Desi Bunsie

        unless your are sensitive to chemicals from the source.