Is Citric Acid Vegan? (Yes, Here’s Why)

Is Citric Acid Vegan

With the rise of the industrialized food industry leading to highly processed food items, it’s becoming less and less clear what ingredients are actually in the foods we choose. Unless reaching for whole foods, it’s a gamble. For those looking to eliminate animal products, it’s a challenge to know what some of these ingredients really are and if they are derived from animals. A common added ingredient in foods that has been confusing to many is citric acid. Is Citric acid vegan friendly?

Yes, citric acid is vegan friendly because it is either derived naturally from fruits or from fungus or corn. Citric acid can be found in various foods from soft drinks to canned foods. Some of the best alternatives to citric acid which are also vegan include lemon juice concentrate, lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar.

It’s good news that citric acid is vegan friendly since it is in so many different food products. But what exactly is citric acid? Let’s find out. 

What is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is found in many fruits and vegetables, mainly citrus fruits. It is a naturally occurring, weak acid that is used as a preservative of flavor enhancer in various foods. Most common foods that contain citric acid are soft drinks, such as Root Beer, Coke and Pepsi, teas, juices, meats, jams, jellies, candies, canned foods, sea salts, flavoring powders, and crunchy snacks [1].

Citric acid also contains antioxidants and detoxification benefits. It’s also commonly used in products that help to improve complexion, soothe sore throat symptoms, and reduce nausea. It also has disinfectant properties and is another common ingredient in cleaning products.

Natural Food Sources of Citric Acid

  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Tangerine
  • Berries (aside from blueberries)
  • Cherries
  • Pineapple
  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Peppers (some varieties) 

How is Citric Acid Made?

Even though citric acid is naturally occurring, most food products contain a manufactured form known as MCA. Manufactured citric acid (MCA) is made by fermenting Aspergillus Niger, a fungus most associated with causing the black mold spots found on old fruits with molasses. Commonly a food contaminant and well-known allergen, Aspergillus Niger is used in the production of 99% of the worlds production of citric acid because it is most cost effective [2].

MCA is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) however, some have suggested it was granted GRAS without checking proper safety parameters. Some researchers have shown concern over possible inflammation resulting from high intakes of MCA containing foods over long periods, but studies are limited.

MCA is found in the majority of processed foods, cosmetics, and cleaning supplies. Natural forms of citric acid are more challenging to find but typically include juice from lemon or lime.

Health Benefits of Citric Acid

If consumed in natural forms, such as juice from lemon or lime or simply with a diet high in fruits and vegetables, citric acid acts as an antioxidant. This helps to protect against free radicals that can increase risk for various chronic diseases.

You might notice citric acid in various dietary supplements. This is because it can help to enhance the absorption of certain nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium. These are often labeled as calcium citrate and magnesium citrate. Zinc, phosphorous and iron are other minerals where absorption is enhanced with citric acid [3].

When combined with potassium, citric acid can potentially help to protect against kidney stones. It works by increasing the acidity of your urine, making more difficult for stones to form and helping to break apart existing stones. Potassium citrate is often a treatment for kidney stones however, choosing a diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides a natural form of citric acid that can offer similar effects [4].

Vegan Foods That Do Contain Citric Acid

For those who don’t worry about consuming citric acid in their foods, below are a few common foods that contain citric acid. 

Siete Grain Free Tortilla Chips Nacho Flavor

The citric acid in these grain-free chips is used as more of a flavor enhancer for the seasonings. Because they are nacho flavor, it adds a little zip to the overall taste.


  • Cassava flour
  • Avocado oil
  • Coconut flour
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Tomato powder
  • Ground chia seed
  • Sea salt
  • Citric acid
  • Jalapeño powder
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Serrano powder

Nutrition Facts (per 1 ounce):

  • Calories 130
  • Fat 7g
  • Saturated Fat 1g
  • Sodium 125mg
  • Carbohydrates 19g
  • Sugar 1g
  • Protein 1g
  • Fiber 3g

Thrive Market Avocado Oil Potato Chips Smokey Barbeque Flavor

These kettle cooked chips also contain citric acid in their seasoning mix. This helps to add that extra tang to the other ingredients, such as tomato and garlic powders, to make the flavor more bold.


  • Potatoes
  • Avocado oil
  • Barbeque seasoning
    • Onion powder
    • Tomato powder
    • Paprika
    • Garlic powder
    • Natural smoked flavor
    • Natural extractives of paprika
    • Citric acid
    • Spices

Nutrition Facts (per 15 chips):

  • Calories 140
  • Fat 9g
  • Saturated Fat 1g
  • Sodium 120mg
  • Carbohydrates 15g
  • Sugar 1g
  • Protein 2g
  • Fiber 1g

Smucker’s Apple Jelly

This popular brand of jellies and jams is a big user of citric acid. In an item like this, it’s helpful not only to add tartness to the flavor profile, but to also keep it shelf stable until opening.


  • Apple juice
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Fruit pectin
  • Citric acid

Nutrition Facts (per 1 tablespoon):

  • Calories 50
  • Fat 0g
  • Saturated Fat 0g
  • Sodium 0mg
  • Carbohydrates 13g
  • Sugar 12g
    • Added sugar 9g
  • Protein 0g
  • Fiber 0g

Vegan Foods That Don’t Contain Citric Acid

For those following a vegan diet and looking to avoid citric acid, it’s best to choose more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. You can also choose to make more foods at home where you can add in fresh lemon juice, garlic or salt as a preservative or flavor enhancer instead.

Best Foods Vegan Dressing and Spread

This vegan mayonnaise alternative uses lemon juice concentrate for flavor as a natural form of citric acid. This helps to add a little bit of tart to the flavor of the sauce while also preserving it for a longer shelf life.


  • Sunflower oil
  • Water
  • Modified food starch (potato and corn)
  • Distilled vinegar
  • 2% or less of
    • Sugar
    • Salt
    • Lemon juice concentrate
    • Sorbic acid
    • Calcium disodium EDTA
    • Natural flavor
    • Paprika extract

Nutrition Facts (per 1 tablespoon):

  • Calories 70
  • Fat 8g
  • Saturated Fat 1g
  • Sodium 100mg
  • Carbohydrates 1g
  • Sugar 0g
  • Protein 0g
  • Fiber 0g

Barvecue Plant Based Naked Chopped BVQ

This vegan barbeque alternative uses apple cider vinegar as a preservative and flavor enhancer. Apple cider vinegar is a great substitute for lemon juice is most recipes because it is also highly acidic and can help provide to balance flavors like lemon juice does.


  • Water
  • Barvecue blend
    • Whole soybean
    • Sweet potato
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Canola oil
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Salt
  • Onion powder
  • Black pepper
  • Celery salt

Nutrition Facts (per 2 ounces):

  • Calories 130
  • Fat 6g
  • Saturated Fat 0.5g
  • Sodium 180mg
  • Carbohydrates 7g
  • Sugar 0g
  • Protein 10g
  • Fiber 4g

Poppi Prebiotic Soda Raspberry Rose

This prebiotic soft drink uses plain old lemon juice to add to the flavor. In fruity drinks such as this one, lemon juice is great at adding a little bit of tartness to bring out some of the other flavors.


  • Sparkling filtered water
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Raspberry juice
  • Lemon juice
  • Organic cane sugar
  • Natural flavors
  • Stevia

Nutrition Facts (per 12 fluid ounces):

  • Calories 20
  • Fat 0g
  • Saturated Fat 0g
  • Sodium 0mg
  • Carbohydrates 5g
  • Sugar 5g
  • Protein 0g
  • Fiber 0g

Related Questions

Does Citric Acid Contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)?

Some forms of citric acid can contain GMOs depending on the source. For those looking to choose organic foods, be wary. USDA organic seal only requires 95% of ingredients to be 100% organically grown. The other 5% is often used for corn that has been genetically modified [5]. This GMO corn is also commonly used in the process of making citric acid. Because Aspergillus Niger needs a sugar substrate to create MCA, corn syrup is often used. To avoid this, choose products that contain lemon or other citrus juices instead of citric acid [5].

Is Citric Acid Safe for Children?

Yes, citric acid is safe for children, even manufactured varieties. Because it is already present in citrus fruits and is a natural compound it will not affect human health no matter what the age. MCA is generally recognized as safe by the FDA therefore is reported to cause no harm when consumed in foods in moderation however, because it is made from Aspergillus Niger, it can trigger allergies in some people. It’s important to note that there are currently no studies available that investigate potential long-term side effects of ingesting high amounts of MCA. It’s always best to choose more whole foods or products with natural ingredients for those who are able.

Is Citric Acid Bad for Your Teeth?

High amounts of citric acid can cause damage to the enamel of your teeth. In extreme cases, this can result in tooth sensitivity [6]. The Academy of General Dentistry recommends consuming high citric acid foods in moderation and rinsing your mouth out after consuming these foods to prevent damage to enamel. It may also be helpful to consume beverages containing citric acid with a straw to eliminate exposure to teeth [7].

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Meghan Stoops

Meghan Stoops is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Nutritionist born and raised in San Jose, California. Growing up she struggled with disordered eating and poor self-image. On a journey to learn to love herself, she discovered a passion for nutrition and dietetics. Dedicated to helping others learn the healing powers of food, Meghan uses the platform of writing to help make nutrition simple for everyone.

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