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FOOD 101: The Difference Between Ascorbic Acid & Citric Acid

Ascorbic acid prevents cut fruit from turning brown. Citric acid provides tart flavor. And dipping apple slices into honey is delicious. Photo by Tova Photography | IST.


In the previous post, we discussed how to make your own lime juice cordial. The recipe contains citric acid.

One of our colleagues wondered, “What’s the difference between citric acid and ascorbic acid? Aren’t they both in lemon juice?”

Yes, but the two products are not interchangeable.

Citric acid and ascorbic acid are both found in citrus juice, as well as in numerous other fruits and vegetables. But they have different properties.

  • Ascorbic acid is vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. It is the more versatile of the two acids. Among its many uses, it keeps cut fruits and vegetables from turning brown. Another major use is in baking bread: It promotes the growth of yeast, which gives bread a finer texture and greater volume. In commercial food processing, it is used as a preservative. Its chemical formula is C6H8O6 (sorry, we can’t figure out how to turn the numbers into subscripts).
  • Citric acid is a less potent antioxidant. It has one more oxygen atom than ascorbic acid (chemical formula C6H8O7). But it has little nutritional value. Its value is its tartness. Citric acid is used commercially to enhance or provide tart flavor in products from tart candies to soft drinks. So much of it is added to cola that it can soften the teeth of heavy consumers. Some bakers use it in sourdough bread to produce an especially assertive tanginess.

    Now that you know the difference, put it to work.

    Start by serving sliced apples with a honey dip or drizzle. Use ascorbic acid—dip the sliced fruit in a lemon juice-water mixture—to keep the flesh from turning brown.

    For citric acid: make some lime juice cordial!


    Related Food Videos: For more food videos, check out The Nibble's Food Video Collection.

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