The 4 Best Citric Acid Substitutes

Chris Starks
Written by
Last update:

Citric acid is a weak organic acid found in citrus fruits and many other fruits. It’s often used as a food preservative, to add tartness, or to adjust the pH of drinks, foods, and cosmetics. It is found in citrus fruits, lemon, limes, watermelon, papaya, and mango.

Citric acid is what gives citrus fruits their tartness. This natural acid is used as a flavoring agent and regulates the pH level in many popular drinks, like lemonade, orange juice, sodas, juices, beer, and vinegar.

Citric acid is also a common ingredient in cosmetics like shampoos, bath and body products, creams, face washes, toothpaste, and mouthwash. Powdered citric acid is used as a food-grade pH adjuster and is often added to food coloring preparations.

Citric acid plays an essential role in fruit mixtures, and it is the primary component that helps preserve, enhance, and keep fruits fresh for long periods. Because of its natural preservative properties, citric acid is also commonly used to preserve food and prevent mold growth.

There are several other uses for citric acid, including:

  • As a natural food preservative
  • In chemical processes to prevent corrosion, mold growth, and spoilage
  • Some creams include citric acid to help clear up skin infections.
  • Other citric acid drugs that you take orally can lower the amount of acid in your urine. This can help prevent kidney stones.
  • Citric acid prevents metabolic acidosis, a buildup of acid inside your body.
  • Some people take calcium citrate supplements to prevent kidney stones.

How Healthy (or Unhealthy) is it?

Citric acid exists in many foods that we eat, and it is often added for flavor and preservation. However, even natural sources of citric acid often contain up to 20% glucose by weight. Because glucose is the precursor of sugar fructose, we are essentially just consuming a lot of fructose.

It’s important to understand that C6 or C3 H2O7 is not inherently unnatural; it is found in many fruits. It’s the bleach-like odor that is troublesome.

So, it’s not food-grade citric acid that you are looking for when you need to replace citric acid, and it’s food-grade citrus essential oils. Citric acid will take care of most flavor problems that most inventors run into, and the essential oils will provide that appealing aroma. However, if the flavor doesn’t have enough oomph, you can make it a little more exciting by using a little more essential oil, but using the same guideline, typically 25 drops per 4 ounces is enough.

Nutritional Breakdown

Citric acid is derived from lemon and grapefruit and is a popular preservative in food and beauty products. As well as being an acid, citric acid serves as a natural preservative and an antioxidant.

Citric acid is often used in beauty products such as soaps, toothpaste, and lotions to assist in the removal of plaque. It is also used in minimizing the appearance of wrinkles.

Citric acid is primarily used as a preservative because it effectively kills bacteria, yeasts, mold, and fungi. It is effective in foods because it is water-soluble, meaning that it can be dissolved in water. Although citric acid is water-soluble, it is not compatible with the water used in beauty products.

While citric acid is often used as a preservative, other preservatives are effective in similar ways. Below is a list of things you can add to products to prevent fungal growth.

Citric Acid Substitutes

Citric acid is a good preservative; however, you can use other preservatives in its place. Below is a list of some of the most commonly used citric acid replacements.

What Recipes use Citric Acid?

Citric acid is used primarily in food preparation for its acidity and preservative properties. It’s also used to enhance flavor and to manufacture beverages like lemonade and punch.

There are many different types of citric acid. When it’s used in recipes, it’s generally added to enhance the flavor of acidic foods. Most of the time, citric acid is added to lemon or lime extract because those are the flavors most people associate with citrus fruits.

The most commonly citric acid recipes are jam, jelly, fruit preserves, cake and cookie recipes, candy, iced tea, and tartar sauce. If you’re looking for a forcemeat or glaze recipe that uses lemon juice or other citrus fruits as the main component, you can substitute the citric acid in those recipes with one of these suggestions below.

Why do we need Citric Acid Substitutes?

Citric acid, whether naturally derived or chemically produced, is used for a wide variety of purposes. Primarily it’s used as a preservative and flavor enhancer for both food and cosmetic products, and in some cases, it’s used as a bleaching agent.

What are Citric Acid Substitutes?

Citric acid is produced in nature by many different plants. It has an antibacterial effect and acts as a natural preservative.

Some citric acid substitutes are derived from citrus fruits, and thus their name.
The most popular citric acid substitute is Potassium Lactate. Lactic acid is a by-product of glucose fermentation. Essentially, it’s organic acid formed in the process of breaking down sugar during the fermentation process. It was originally derived from plants and later produced from protobacteria.

Is Citric Acid Better than its Substitutes?

Although many citric acid substitutes are perfect for the same tasks, citric acid is still preferred for flavor and taste. It has a sour, acidic flavor with a slightly salty taste. It can be extracted from plants, and the extract can then be commercially produced or naturally derived.

1.Lemon Juice🌱

Some users prefer clear lemon juice because it adds a tart taste to dishes. And the citric acid found in lemons works exceptionally well to preserve food. However, the clear liquid doesn't work as well as powdered citric acid because it's easy to get the acid into your eye.

2.Tartaric Acid 🌱

This grape-flavored acid is often used as an acidic agent in wines, and is also sold as a powder. Because the acidic taste is stronger, a reduced amount is recommended in recipes. Start with half the amount listed for citric acid, and increase if needed. Don’t confuse tartaric acid with cream of tartar, as tartaric acid is water soluble, and cream of tartar is not.


Vinegar is a clear and slightly sour liquid made from a mixture of water and various types of acid. You can substitute citric acid with vinegar. The main component of vinegar is acetic acid; its strength depends on its formula: the more acetic acid, the more powerful the smell. For example, white vinegar and apple cider vinegar have 5% – 8% acetic acid. The stronger the vinegar, the more acidic it is. Any other substance you add to it keeps the acidic volume the same.

Ascorbic Acid/Vitamin C 🌱

Ascorbic acid is one of the best substitutes for citric acid. Crushed vitamin C tablets are an effective preservative substitute for citric acid, and you can sub these at a 1:1 ratio. Vitamin C is not technically known as citric acid, but as ascorbic acid. Vitamin C is known to boost metabolism and acts as a potent antioxidant. It is used in most mouthwashes and antiseptics. It is also used to preserve and maintain collagen as well as to boost the immune system.

As an antioxidant, ascorbic acid will prevent oxidation. It lowers the risk of cancer and heart disease by reportedly strengthening the immune system.
The best way to use ascorbic acid is to add it to water and consume it. Alternatively, you can mix it with honey or even consume it as a supplement. As with all vitamins, do not exceed the daily dosage because it can cause you to have bad breath and other unwanted effects.

The Bottom Line

Citric acid can be used for a variety of things in home and beauty applications. But you are probably most familiar with it as an ingredient in your favorite fizzy drink.
As you probably already know, citric acid is often used to add a sour flavor and tangy taste to some beverages and some food products as a flavoring agent.

In addition to being a flavored food additive, citric acid is also used commercially and industrially as a preservative and is a common ingredient in many household and beauty products. Commercial and industrial uses include cleaning products, leather treatments, surface cleaners, and metal treatments.

However, if you are not a fan of the sour taste of the citric acid derived from citrus fruits, you have plenty of choices for substitutes. Citric acid is also sold in other forms, such as capsule form or powdered form. Some makers of citric acid powder also offer tiny coarse crystals for food use.
So, if you are looking for a substitute for citric acid, these are the best choices to try.