4 Amazing Citric Acid Substitutes

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Citric acid is often used as a preservative in drinks, canned food, and sweets. It is also used to make cheese and jam, working to coagulate the milk and activate the pectin in jam. It often plays a significant role in a recipe and it is not advisable to simply leave it out. Having knowledge of good citric acid substitutes is important if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen!

Thankfully citric acid substitutes are relatively easy to find and can replace this mild, water-soluble acid that occurs naturally in many sour-tasting fruits and vegetables.

Citric Acid Substitutes

Luckily, there is a range of citric acid substitutes, including lemon juice, tartaric acid, white distilled vinegar, and vitamin C, among others.

Lemon Juice

This common household fruit juice is a great substitute for citric acid, offering a similarly sour flavor with additional vitamin C. On average, there are 3 grams of citric acid in one juiced lemon. Add 4-5 tablespoons of lemon juice per 1 tablespoon of citric acid powder. If using lemon as a substitute, it may be worth slightly reducing other liquid ingredients in order to maintain the overall consistency of the recipe.

Glass jar filled with lemon juice with lemons and lemon leaf on a wooden table

A jug filled with lemon juice Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Tartaric Acid

Often used as a souring agent in wines, this grape-sourced acid is also sold as a powder. The acidic taste is stronger and a reduced amount is recommended: begin with half of the amount listed for citric acid and increase according to taste if needed. For the substitution of citric acid, it is important not to confuse tartaric acid with cream of tartar, as the first is water soluble and the latter is not.

White Distilled Vinegar

Vinegar is an acetic acid which is mild like citric acid and as a substitute offers a similarly sour flavor. Start by tripling the amount of vinegar for the citric acid in the recipe and add more to taste. Although it is possible to use other vinegar types, be aware that stronger vinegar may change the overall taste of your dish. Like lemons, you will want to reduce other liquids in the recipe so as to maintain the overall consistency of the dish.

Vitamin C

Crushed vitamin C tablets can be a preservative substitute for citric acid, and can provide a sour tang in simple recipes. It is possible to substitute these two at a 1:1 ratio.

Although also present in citrus fruits and vegetables, vitamin C is not technically known as citric acid, but rather an ascorbic acid. However, in some cases, the two different acids can perform similar functions in recipes.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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