Citric Acid vs. Malic Acid

What's the Difference?

Citric acid and malic acid are both organic acids commonly found in fruits and vegetables. However, they differ in terms of their taste and chemical structure. Citric acid has a tart and sour taste, which is why it is often used as a flavor enhancer in food and beverages. It is also a key component in the citric acid cycle, an important metabolic pathway in living organisms. On the other hand, malic acid has a more pronounced and sour taste, often described as tart or tangy. It is found in high concentrations in apples and gives them their characteristic flavor. Malic acid is also used as a food additive and is known for its ability to enhance the flavor of sour candies and beverages. In terms of chemical structure, citric acid has three carboxylic acid groups, while malic acid has only one.


AttributeCitric AcidMalic Acid
SolubilityHighly soluble in waterSoluble in water
TasteTart and sourTart and sour
Chemical FormulaC6H8O7C4H6O5
SourceFound in citrus fruitsFound in apples and other fruits
UsesFood and beverage additive, cleaning agentFood and beverage additive, flavor enhancer

Further Detail


Citric acid and malic acid are two common organic acids found in various fruits and vegetables. They play important roles in food and beverage industries, as well as in pharmaceutical and cosmetic applications. While both acids share some similarities, they also possess distinct characteristics that make them unique. In this article, we will explore and compare the attributes of citric acid and malic acid, shedding light on their chemical properties, natural sources, uses, and potential health benefits.

Chemical Properties

Citric acid, with the chemical formula C6H8O7, is a tricarboxylic acid. It is a weak acid, meaning it does not fully dissociate in water. Citric acid is highly soluble in water and has a sour taste. On the other hand, malic acid, with the chemical formula C4H6O5, is a dicarboxylic acid. It is also a weak acid and has a similar solubility in water. Malic acid is known for its characteristic tart taste, which is often associated with green apples.

Natural Sources

Citric acid is abundantly found in citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges, and grapefruits. It is also present in other fruits like berries, pineapples, and tomatoes. In addition to fruits, citric acid can be produced through microbial fermentation using certain strains of Aspergillus niger. On the other hand, malic acid is naturally present in various fruits, with higher concentrations found in apples, cherries, and grapes. It is also found in some vegetables like tomatoes and rhubarb. Malic acid can be extracted from these natural sources or produced synthetically through chemical processes.

Uses in Food and Beverage Industries

Citric acid is widely used in the food and beverage industries as a natural preservative, flavor enhancer, and acidulant. It helps to extend the shelf life of products by inhibiting the growth of bacteria and molds. Citric acid is commonly used in soft drinks, candies, jams, and jellies. It also acts as a pH regulator and antioxidant in various processed foods. Malic acid, on the other hand, is primarily used as a flavoring agent due to its tart taste. It is often added to sour candies, fruit-flavored beverages, and chewing gums to provide a tangy flavor. Malic acid can also enhance the taste of wines and contribute to the fermentation process in winemaking.

Health Benefits

Both citric acid and malic acid offer potential health benefits when consumed in moderation. Citric acid is known to enhance the absorption of minerals like calcium and iron in the body. It also acts as an antioxidant, helping to neutralize harmful free radicals and protect against oxidative stress. Citric acid is commonly used in skincare products due to its exfoliating and brightening properties. Malic acid, on the other hand, is involved in the Krebs cycle, a vital metabolic pathway in the body. It plays a role in energy production and can help alleviate muscle fatigue and soreness. Malic acid is also used in oral care products as it can stimulate saliva production and help maintain oral health.

Potential Side Effects

While both citric acid and malic acid are generally recognized as safe for consumption, excessive intake may lead to certain side effects. Citric acid, when consumed in large amounts, can cause gastrointestinal discomfort such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, or acid reflux. Individuals with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or kidney problems should be cautious with their citric acid intake. Similarly, excessive consumption of malic acid may cause digestive issues like bloating or diarrhea. It is important to note that these side effects are rare and usually occur when consumed in excessive quantities or in sensitive individuals.


In conclusion, citric acid and malic acid are two organic acids with distinct attributes. While both acids are commonly found in fruits and have various applications in the food and beverage industries, they differ in their chemical properties, natural sources, and taste profiles. Citric acid is known for its sour taste and is widely used as a preservative and flavor enhancer. Malic acid, on the other hand, provides a tart taste and is primarily used as a flavoring agent. Both acids offer potential health benefits and are generally safe for consumption when consumed in moderation. Understanding the characteristics of citric acid and malic acid can help in their appropriate utilization in various industries and products.

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