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Citric Acid in Limes, Lemons & Oranges

Citric Acid in Limes, Lemons & Oranges
A large bowl of limes, lemons, and oranges. Photo Credit: karandaev/iStock/Getty Images

Lemons, limes and oranges are vibrant citrus fruits used in many dishes, beverages and desserts. The tart, sharp flavor is no surprise to those who take a bite and neither is the “pucker face” of someone who has just bitten into a lemon. Citric acid, which is the important ingredient in these fruits, is beneficial for the body.

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Citric acid derived from lemons created lemonade for the first time in 1825 when the process was described in a medical dictionary, according to the Ecama website. In the 19th century, citric acid extracted from citrus fruits was in greater demand. With the development of fermentation, citric acid had more uses. In the late 1890s, the demand was higher than supply. When an organic chemist discovered a way to produce citric acid from molds and microorganisms, large-scale production was introduced.


Citric acid is often referred to as “nature’s acidulant,” according to the Ecama website. It is a water-soluble, organic acid found in many fruits. It produces a sour, tart, sharp taste that is frequently used for flavoring soda and fruit juices. In canned fruit, citric acid helps to preserve flavor, appearance and consistency since the pH level is good for preventing spoiling.


The human body produces and metabolizes 1.5 to 2 kg of citric acid a day. The original form is citrate, which plays a role in energy metabolism from the intake of food, according to the Ecama website. The citric acid cycle, discovered by German-British biochemist Professor Hans Adolf Krebs, shows the importance of consuming foods with citric acid. This discovery, for which Professor Krebs won a Nobel Prize, explains that all nutrients taken into the body must go through a citric acid cycle to be converted into energy for the body to use. In order to function properly, the body must maintain this cycle.

Citrus Fruit

Oranges, round and segmented, are best known for their vitamin C properties. They have 0.6 to 1 percent of citric acid by weight. Lemons, oval and yellow, are also a segmented fruit that has 4 to 8 percent of citric acid by weight. Limes, oval and green, segmented as well, come in either sour or sweet varieties. Sour limes have up to 8 percent citric acid by weight, while sweet limes do not, according to the World’s Healthiest Foods website.


Lemons, limes and oranges may not be a wise choice for those who are sensitive to citric acid. Those with such sensitivity can still gain the benefits of these citrus fruits by squeezing out the juice to add to meals or by adding a slice of the fruit to an 8 oz. glass of water for a refreshing drink.

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