Citric acid is a rare source of food allergy. Some people may develop a sensitivity to citric acid that does not give a positive result on an allergy skin test. It can be difficult to pinpoint citric acid as the cause of your symptoms because it is such a common food additive and is present in many processed foods.
What is Citric Acid?
Citric acid is a common food additive found in everything from candy and soda to canned vegetables. Contrary to what you might expect from the name, citric acid does not contain any citrus juice. The food additive citric acid is manufactured by an industrial culture of a type of mold called Aspergillus Niger.
In the manufacturing process, the mold culture is fed sugar solutions, which are often derived from corn. Many people who react to foods containing citric acid may actually be allergic to the mold or corn used to produce the acid.
Symptoms of Citric Acid Sensitivity
The symptoms of citric acid sensitivity may range from mild skin rashes to symptoms of a severe allergic reaction. Symptoms may include:
- Mouth ulcers or rashes
- Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, or diarrhea
- Swelling of the mouth or throat
- Other symptoms of food allergy
Causes of Citric Acid Sensitivity
If you have an allergy or sensitivity to airborne mold or mold found in the environment, you may also react to mold in or on the foods you eat. If you are allergic to corn, you may be sensitive to the tiny amount of corn that is left in citric acid during the manufacturing process.
Allergists can determine if you have an allergy to mold or corn using a skin-prick test, but to determine if you are also sensitive to mold in foods, you will need to do an elimination diet and supervised oral food challenge.
Some alternative medical practitioners believe that sensitivity to citric acid and other food additives is caused by exposure to environmental toxins. A build-up of heavy metals in the body is believed to lead to sensitivity to small quantities of additives that do not bother healthy people.
Sensitivity to Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and limes, can cause oral allergy syndrome or contact reactions in some people. The acid in citrus fruits can also aggravate acid reflux symptoms and cause some people to experience heartburn.
There are no citrus fruits in commercial citric acid used as a food additive.
Schuster, E., Dunn-Coleman, N., Frisvad, J. C. & van Dijck, P. W. M. (2002) On the safety of Aspergillus Niger - A Review. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 59: 426-435.
Genuis, Stephen. Sensitivity-related illness: The escalating pandemic of allergy, food intolerance and chemical sensitivity. Science of The Total Environment, Volume 408, Issue 24, 15 November 2010, Pages 6047-6061
Luccioli, S. et al. Can Mold Allergy Be Triggered Via the Oral Route? Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Volume 93, Issue 5, Supplement 3, November 2004, Page S55