Difference Between Sodium Citrate And Citric Acid

Sodium citrate and citric acid are two widely used compounds with pivotal roles in various industries, yet they often get mistaken for one another due to their similar names and origins. Both substances are critical in food, pharmaceuticals, and even in cleaning products, but their chemical properties and applications differ significantly.

Sodium citrate, primarily used as a buffer and a preservative, offers a salty, less acidic taste, making it ideal for dairy products like cheese and ice cream. Citric acid, on the other hand, is a natural preservative that provides a sour taste, commonly found in citrus fruits and used extensively in beverages and candies to enhance flavor and preserve freshness.

These differences underscore the importance of distinguishing between sodium citrate and citric acid, as each serves unique functions and offers different benefits and implications for health and industry applications.

Chemical Identities

Sodium Citrate

Definition and Formula

Sodium citrate, a salt form of citric acid, bears the chemical formula Na₃C₆H₅O₇. It is derived from the sodium salt of citric acid and has a crystalline appearance. Sodium citrate is soluble in water and has a salty taste.

Properties and Stability

Sodium citrate is known for its stability and ability to resist changes in temperature and humidity. This compound does not decompose easily, making it highly valued in food preservation and pharmaceuticals. It also acts as a buffer to control acidity levels in a variety of products.

Citric Acid

Definition and Formula

Citric acid is an organic acid commonly found in citrus fruits, especially lemons and limes. Its formula is C₆H₈O₇. This acid is a natural preservative and is used to add an acidic, or sour, taste to foods and beverages.

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Properties and Stability

The stability of citric acid is notable, as it maintains its properties under a wide range of temperatures and storage conditions. It is highly soluble in water and possesses strong chelating capabilities, which are essential in metal cleaning and pharmaceuticals.

Production Processes

Sodium Citrate Creation

Key Ingredients and Steps

To produce sodium citrate, the following steps are typically followed:

  • Dissolution: Citric acid is dissolved in an aqueous solution.
  • Neutralization: Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is added to the citric acid solution to neutralize it.
  • Crystallization: The solution is then cooled, allowing sodium citrate to crystallize.

Industrial Applications

Sodium citrate’s ability to adjust pH and enhance stability finds applications in various industries:

  • Food: Acts as an emulsifier in cheeses and a buffer in ice creams.
  • Pharmaceuticals: Used to improve the effects of medicinal products.

Citric Acid Synthesis

Sources and Extraction Methods

Citric acid is predominantly produced via fermentation:

  • Raw materials: Sugars derived from corn or molasses are the primary sources.
  • Fermentation: These sugars are fermented by the mold Aspergillus niger to produce citric acid.

Commercial Production Techniques

  • Filtration and crystallization: After fermentation, the mixture is filtered and the citric acid is crystallized.
  • Drying: The crystals are then dried to yield the powdered form of citric acid.

Role in Foods

Sodium Citrate in Cooking

Common Uses and Benefits

  • Emulsification: Helps in the smooth integration of fats and oils in sauces and cheeses.
  • pH Adjustment: Modifies acidity in beverages and dairy products.

Flavor Profiles and Interactions

Sodium citrate offers a slightly salty taste without the sourness of citric acid, enhancing flavors without overpowering them.

Citric Acid Applications

Preservative Roles and Taste Enhancement

  • Preservative: Extends shelf life by inhibiting bacterial growth.
  • Flavor Enhancer: Adds a tangy zest to food and drinks, which is especially popular in candies and soft drinks.

DIY Uses in Home Cooking

  • Sour Salt: Used as a seasoning in culinary preparations.
  • Canning: Helps preserve the integrity and appearance of canned fruits and vegetables.

Health Implications

Sodium Citrate Benefits

Dietary Contributions and Safety

Sodium citrate is widely recognized for its safety and utility in the food industry. As a food additive, it serves as a buffer or an acidity regulator, helping maintain the desired pH levels in many products. This not only ensures the safety of the food by preventing undesirable microbial growth but also enhances texture and flavor stability. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies sodium citrate as generally recognized as safe (GRAS), affirming its benign nature when used appropriately.

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Specific Health Benefits

Beyond its roles in food preservation and enhancement, sodium citrate has several health benefits:

  • Kidney Stone Prevention: Sodium citrate helps reduce the formation of kidney stones by making the urine less acidic.
  • Metabolic Alkalizer: It can be used to treat conditions caused by excess stomach acid, such as acid reflux or dyspepsia.
  • Rehydration: In sports drinks, it aids in rehydration and electrolyte balance, improving athletic performance.

Citric Acid Advantages

Antioxidant Properties

Citric acid acts as an antioxidant, protecting the body against damaging free radicals. Antioxidants stabilize free radicals and can help prevent cellular damage, which is linked to various diseases, including cancer and heart disease.

Digestive Aid and Other Uses

  • Digestive Health: Citric acid can enhance nutrient absorption and assist in the breakdown of proteins.
  • Detoxification: It supports the kidneys in cleansing and removing toxins, potentially benefiting renal health.

Industrial Uses

Sodium Citrate in Industries

Role in Pharmaceuticals

In the pharmaceutical industry, sodium citrate is used to achieve a variety of effects:

  • Buffering Agent: Maintains the pH levels in pharmaceuticals, ensuring drug stability and efficacy.
  • Anticoagulant: Used in blood collection tubes, it prevents clotting during storage.

Use in Detergents and Cosmetics

  • Detergents: Sodium citrate softens water, enhancing the effectiveness of laundry detergents.
  • Cosmetics: It stabilizes the pH levels in cosmetics, ensuring they are safe and gentle on the skin.

Citric Acid in Products

Applications in Cleaning Agents

Citric acid is a key ingredient in eco-friendly cleaning products due to its ability to dissolve stains and buildups:

  • Descaling and Rust Removal: Effective in removing hard water stains and rust from metals.
  • Natural Preservative: Extends the shelf life of biodegradable cleaning products.

Importance in Cosmetics and Personal Care

Citric acid adjusts pH levels in skincare and haircare products, promoting skin renewal and maintaining healthy skin barrier functions.

Environmental Impact

Sodium Citrate Footprint

Biodegradability and Eco-friendliness

Sodium citrate is fully biodegradable, causing minimal environmental impact when compared to synthetic chemicals.

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Regulatory Status

It is often favored in green manufacturing processes due to its safe profile and minimal regulatory restrictions.

Citric Acid Sustainability

Environmental Benefits

Citric acid contributes positively to environmental sustainability:

  • Biodegradability: Like sodium citrate, it is easily broken down by natural processes.
  • Low Toxicity: Does not contribute to pollution or toxicity in aquatic or soil environments.

Challenges in Large-Scale Production

  • Resource Intensive: Requires significant amounts of water and energy, highlighting the need for sustainable production methods.

Economic Aspects

Market Dynamics

Global Demand and Supply Trends

The demand for both sodium citrate and citric acid has grown substantially due to their versatile applications. Factors such as rising health awareness and the popularity of processed foods have influenced their market dynamics.

Price Fluctuations and Economic Factors

Prices can vary based on raw material availability and production costs. Economic downturns and supply chain disruptions can also impact market stability and pricing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Sodium Citrate?

Sodium citrate is a salt derived from citric acid, often used to control acidity in various food and beverage products. It helps improve texture and stability, especially in dairy products, by preventing the coagulation of proteins.

How is Citric Acid Used in Foods?

Citric acid is predominantly utilized as a flavor enhancer and preservative in foods and drinks. Its sour taste is key in sodas, candies, and frozen foods, where it also helps extend shelf life by inhibiting bacterial growth.

Are Sodium Citrate and Citric Acid Safe?

Both sodium citrate and citric acid are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by food safety authorities worldwide. They are commonly used within recommended limits to ensure no adverse health effects.

Can Citric Acid Affect Digestion?

Yes, citric acid can promote healthy digestion by increasing the acidity in the stomach, which can help break down food more effectively. However, excessive consumption may lead to stomach upset in sensitive individuals.

What Are the Environmental Impacts of Citric Acid?

Citric acid is biodegradable and considered environmentally friendly. Its production from natural sources like citrus fruits minimizes harmful emissions, making it a preferred choice in eco-conscious practices.


The nuanced differences between sodium citrate and citric acid highlight their distinct roles across various applications. Recognizing these distinctions is crucial for their effective and safe use in industry, health, and food products. As consumers, an informed understanding helps in making better choices regarding the products we use daily.

In conclusion, while both compounds share a common origin, their unique chemical properties tailor them for specific uses that impact our everyday life, from the food we eat to the products we use for health and hygiene.

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