Citric acid is a weak organic tricarboxylic acid having the chemical formula C6H8O7. It occurs naturally in citrus fruits. In biochemistry, it is an intermediate in the citric acid cycle, which occurs in the metabolism of all aerobic organisms.
More than a million tons of citric acid are manufactured every year. It is used widely as an acidifier, as a flavoring and chelating agent.
A citrate is a derivative of citric acid; that is, the salts, esters, and the polyatomic anion found in solution. An example of the former, a salt is trisodium citrate; an ester is triethyl citrate. When part of a salt, the formula of the citrate ion is written as C6H5O73− or C3H5O(COO)33−.
Citric acid exists in greater than trace amounts in a variety of fruits and vegetables, most notably citrus fruits. Lemons and limes have particularly high concentrations of the acid; it can constitute as much as 8% of the dry weight of these fruits (about 47 g/L in the juices). The concentrations of citric acid in citrus fruits range from 0.005 mol/L for oranges and grapefruits to 0.30 mol/L in lemons and limes. Within species, these values vary depending on the cultivar and the circumstances in which the fruit was grown.
Industrial-scale citric acid production first began in 1890 based on the Italian citrus fruit industry, where the juice was treated with hydrated lime (calcium hydroxide) to precipitate calcium citrate, which was isolated and converted back to the acid using diluted sulfuric acid. In 1893, C. Wehmer discovered Penicillium mold could produce citric acid from sugar. However, microbial production of citric acid did not become industrially important until World War I disrupted Italian citrus exports.
In 1917, American food chemist James Currie discovered certain strains of the mold Aspergillus niger could be efficient citric acid producers, and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer began industrial-level production using this technique two years later, followed by Citrique Belge in 1929. In this production technique, which is still the major industrial route to citric acid used today, cultures of A. niger are fed on a sucrose or glucose-containing medium to produce citric acid. The source of sugar is corn steep liquor, molasses, hydrolyzed corn starch or other inexpensive sugary solutions. After the mold is filtered out of the resulting solution, citric acid is isolated by precipitating it with calcium hydroxide to yield calcium citrate salt, from which citric acid is regenerated by treatment with sulfuric acid, as in the direct extraction from citrus fruit juice.
In 1977, a patent was granted to Lever Brothers for the chemical synthesis of citric acid starting either from aconitic or isocitrate/alloisocitrate calcium salts under high pressure conditions. This produced citric acid in near quantitative conversion under what appeared to be a reverse non-enzymatic Krebs cycle reaction.
In 2007, worldwide annual production stood at approximately 1,600,000 tons. More than 50% of this volume was produced in China. More than 50% was used as acidity regulator in beverages, some 20% in other food applications, 20% for detergent applications and 10% for related applications other than food, such as cosmetics, pharmaceutics and in the chemical industry.
Citric acid was first isolated in 1784 by the chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele, who crystallized it from lemon juice. It can exist either in an anhydrous (water-free) form or as a monohydrate. The anhydrous form crystallizes from hot water, while the monohydrate forms when citric acid is crystallized from cold water. The monohydrate can be converted to the anhydrous form at about 78 °C. Citric acid also dissolves in absolute (anhydrous) ethanol (76 parts of citric acid per 100 parts of ethanol) at 15 °C. It decomposes with loss of carbon dioxide above about 175 °C.
Citric acid is normally considered to be a tribasic acid, with pKa values, extrapolated to zero ionic strength, of 5.21, 4.28 and 2.92 at 25 °C. The pKa of the hydroxyl group has been found, by means of 13C NMR spectroscopy, to be 14.4. The speciation diagram shows that solutions of citric acid are buffer solutions between about pH 2 and pH 8. In biological systems around pH 7, the two species present are the citrate ion and mono-hydrogen citrate ion. The SSC 20X hybridization buffer is an example in common use. Tables compiled for biochemical studies are available.
On the other hand, the pH of a 1 mM solution of citric acid will be about 3.2. The pH of fruit juices from citrus fruits like oranges and lemons depends on the citric acid concentration, being lower for higher acid concentration and conversely.
Acid salts of citric acid can be prepared by careful adjustment of the pH before crystallizing the compound. See, for example, sodium citrate.
The citrate ion forms complexes with metallic cations. The stability co