If you think that “citric acid” and “ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)” comes from fruit, then keep reading to find out where they truly come from!
Citric acid is not an ingredient from a plant. Instead, it originates inside an industrial factory and goes through several processes before ending up in your food. This ingredient has no relationship with a citrus fruit, and the sad part is most people think it does.
The fact is citric acid and ascorbic acid are GMO ingredients and are responsible for many food allergies when it comes to sensitive consumers. Besides, these ingredients aid in the creation of benzene, a well-known human carcinogen.
An intolerance of citric acid or the components of its production can cause symptoms such as headaches, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, reactions in the mouth, cramping, hives, blotchy skin and dark circles under the eye.
Most people don’t suffer from citric acid allergies. Therefore, they cannot identify the adverse effects from eating it. But this serves as a reminder that many of us eat food that comes from food products developed in labs with processed ingredients which most people would never recognize and know little about.
How Citric Acid is Synthesized from Genetically Modified Black Mold
Scientists are always improving and refining citric acid efficiency, but there are some constants to the process of this ingredient:
Aspergillus Niger is a natural black mold that appears on vegetables and fruits. However, in recent years A. Niger went through a few notable modifications to decrease unwanted byproducts and increase production of citric acid. The mold has experienced many generations of genetic changes and mutations to become a perfect specialized ingredient for industrial-scale economics. The most common types of modified black mold are:
• Gamma radiation has been used to change strains of A. niger mutants, resulting in multiplied or increased production through genetic improvement.
• Further genetic modification in the lab has taken place through the engineering of the glycolytic pathway, resulting in a metabolic-streamlining that facilitates greater citric acid production from sugar, while shutting off side avenues of glycolysis.
The industry continues to study new ways to improve and modified A. niger.
Almost all industrial citric acid starts with processed glucose corn syrup obtained from corn wet milling products. Other parts of corn residues are used in other processes. It may also include cane molasses, beet sugar and sometimes fruit waste in the process to make acid citrus.
The use of Corn in citric acid manufacturing serves an economic advantage because, as a GMO product, corn is usually not labeled and contains high levels of starch (yellow dent #2) variety which contributes to the production of ingredients such as:
- Citric acid
- Corn meal
- Corn oil
- High fructose corn syrup
- Dextrose (corn sugar)
- Xantham gum
- Ascorbic acid (also labeled as Vitamin C)
- Free glutamates (such as ‘hydrolyzed vegetable protein’)
- Malic acid
- Baking powder
Often, hydrochloric acid is applied in the corn-conversion process.
To be able to transform corn or even other plant starches into the products mentioned above, they need to go through some serious chemistry processes.
After using wet milling corn to separate the starch, and to produce many of the ingredients listed above, they must soak in strong bases where lyes are used to break down the plant material even further.
Sometimes this means autolysis when yeasts or bacteria ferment the material, and other times hydrolysis is used – which vary depending on the kind of additive, and the most efficient and cost-effective established processes.
As with other common food ingredients, there is a continuing issue with mercury cell technology – an old model still used in many major chlor-alkali plants – that have a known problem with mercury contamination through the application of caustic soda (to neutralize work with acids). Amidst hundreds of food ingredients that are potentially contaminated by mercury, studies reveal the three most common are high fructose corn syrup, sodium benzoate, and citric acid.
A 2009 study published in Environmental Health examined the level of mercury contamination from the chlor-alkali process. The results led to many newspapers publishing warnings about the mercury content in high fructose corn syrup. Although citric acid didn’t make the news headlines, it also is processed in the same way:
Mercury cell chlor-alkali products are used to manufacture thousands of products including food ingredients such as citric acid, sodium benzoate, and high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is used in food products to improve shelf life. In fact, one pilot study was conducted to determine if high fructose corn syrup contains mercury, a toxic metal historically used as an anti-microbial. High fructose corn syrup samples were collected from three different manufacturers and analyzed for total mercury. The samples were found to include levels of mercury ranging from below a detection limit of 0.005 to 0.570 micrograms mercury per gram of high fructose corn syrup.
– Medium preparation: Several proprietary combinations of acids and heat are used to eliminate impurities and sterilize the corn syrup or another substrate, including decationization (to alter the charge of ions), thermodynamic hexacyanoferrate clarification (pertaining to an ion exchange using an iron/cyanide compound) as well as boiling.
While the sugar substrate is diluted in preparation for fermentation.
– Inoculation: Through a rigorous process, the spores or cultures of the fermenting agent is introduced, mixed and multiplied. In nearly all current industrial processes, a genetically modified mutant strain of Aspergillus niger (black mold) is then used to ferment the corn sugar syrup into citric acid over the course of several days.