Citric acid powder is a versatile ingredient used in many recipes and food preservation methods. It adds a tart, sour flavor and helps preserve foods by lowering their pH.
But what if you don't have citric acid powder on hand? Thankfully, there are several readily available citric acid substitutes to choose from.
What is Citric Acid Powder?
Citric acid powder is an acidic powder derived from citric acid, which naturally occurs in citrus fruits. It has a very sour, tart taste and works as a preservative and flavor enhancer.
Some key uses of citric acid powder include:
- Canning and preserving - It helps maintain color and texture of canned fruits and vegetables by preventing oxidation. Citric acid powder lowers the pH of foods, stopping bacterial growth.
- Cheesemaking - It is added to milk to help separate curds from whey and develop the characteristic tart flavor in cheeses like mozzarella.
- Jam and jelly making - Citric acid powder activates pectin, causing it to form a gel that sets jams and jellies.
- Candy making - It provides a sour tang to candies like sour gummies, sour belts, lemon drops etc.
- Beverages - As a preservative and flavoring agent in carbonated drinks, juices, squashes etc.
- Cleaning - In cleaning solutions, it works to remove soap scum, hard water deposits, rust stains etc.
So citric acid powder has some very specific uses and it's best not to leave it out of recipes that depend on it. Having good substitutes handy is important.
Best Citric Acid Powder Substitutes
Thankfully, you can easily substitute citric acid powder with common kitchen ingredients. Here are the top options:
1. Lemon Juice
Lemon juice is hands down the best substitute as citrus fruits are natural sources of citric acid. The tart, sour juice can perfectly mimic the acidic qualities of citric acid powder.
- Use 4-5 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice to replace 1 tablespoon citric acid powder.
- Add lemon juice at the end to balance flavors. Reduce other liquids to maintain consistency.
- Provides similar preservative effect and adds delicious lemon flavor.
2. White Vinegar
Though not as tart, white vinegar makes a good citric acid substitute in dishes like marinades, pickled vegetables, cheeses etc.
- Use 3 times more vinegar - 3 tablespoons for 1 tablespoon citric acid powder.
- Has 5% acetic acid content, so provides needed acidity. Neutral flavor.
- May need to adjust liquids. Avoid malt, apple cider, flavored vinegars.
3. Cream of Tartar
Cream of tartar, also known as tartaric acid, offers a sour acidic taste similar to citric acid powder.
- Use half the amount - 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar for 1 teaspoon citric acid powder.
- Adds acidity without altering flavor. Common in baking section.
- Can use in baked goods, frostings, candies instead of citric acid powder.
4. Ascorbic Acid
Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C powder, makes for a handy citric acid substitute in a pinch. Crush vitamin C tablets to a powder.
- Replace citric acid powder in a 1:1 ratio with ascorbic acid.
- Provides acidity and slows oxidation but has a milder sour flavor.
- Works in juices, jams, marinades, cheeses as an alternative preservative.
5. Lime or Lemon Extract
Lime and lemon extract bring concentrated citrus flavor along with acidity. Use sparingly to avoid overpowering other ingredients.
- 1/2 teaspoon extract equals 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
- Adds more pronounced flavor than citric acid powder.
- Best for beverages, dressings, dips, icings, and candy recipes.
Citric Acid Substitutes Conversion
|Citric Acid Powder||Substitute|
|1 tablespoon||4-5 tablespoons lemon juice|
|1 teaspoon||1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar|
|1 teaspoon||1 teaspoon ascorbic acid|
|1 tablespoon||3 tablespoons white vinegar|
|1 tablespoon||1/2 teaspoon lemon extract|
How to Use Citric Acid Substitutes
Citric acid powder is used in small amounts in recipes. When using a substitute, begin with less and adjust to taste. Here are some tips on using common citric acid substitutes:
In Jam Making
- Add 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice per cup of fruit to activate pectin and get a good set.
- White vinegar also works to set jam - use 1 tablespoon per cup of fruit.
- Adjust sugar and liquids to account for extra moisture from substitutes.
- Use 2-3 teaspoons of lemon juice to coagulate 1 gallon of milk when making cheeses like paneer, ricotta, or mozzarella.
- For soft cheeses, replace citric acid with 2 teaspoons cream of tartar diluted in water.
- Check curd formation time when using substitutes.
In Marinades and Pickles
- For meat marinades, use 2-3 times more lemon juice or vinegar compared to citric acid powder called for.
- In pickling brines, add white vinegar or lemon juice to achieve desired sour taste.
- May need to reduce other liquids to maintain consistency.
In Home Canning
- To prevent oxidation, use 1 tablespoon lemon juice per pint jar of fruits or veggies instead of citric acid.
- White vinegar also works - use 1/2 tablespoon per pint jar.
- Add substitutes to canning jar along with fruits/veggies.
- For carbonated drinks, use twice the amount of lemon juice compared to citric acid powder.
- Try lime juice or small amounts of vinegar for unique flavor twists.
- Use lemon/lime extracts sparingly - a few drops per 12 oz drink.
Can I make citric acid powder at home?
It is possible to make citric acid powder at home by extracting it from lemon or lime juice. However, this requires additional ingredients like calcium chloride, sodium hydroxide etc. The resulting yield is also very low. It's easier to use substitutes handy in your kitchen.
What's the difference between citric acid and ascorbic acid?
Citric acid and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) are two different acids found in citrus fruits. Citric acid has a more tart, sour taste useful as a preservative and flavoring agent. Ascorbic acid is milder in flavor but also acts as an antioxidant.
Can I use baking soda instead of citric acid powder?
Baking soda cannot substitute for citric acid powder in recipes, as both ingredients have very different purposes. But citric acid powder does help activate baking soda in recipes leavened with baking powder.
Is cream of tartar the same as tartaric acid?
No, cream of tartar and tartaric acid are different. Cream of tartar contains an extra potassium molecule, making it less soluble in water than tartaric acid. If a recipe needs solubility, use tartaric acid instead of cream of tartar.
Can I substitute apple cider vinegar for citric acid powder?
Yes, the acetic acid in apple cider vinegar provides the needed acidity to substitute citric acid powder. Use 3 times the amount of vinegar and reduce other liquids to maintain consistency. Cider vinegar may alter flavor slightly.
Citric acid powder is a handy ingredient to have in your pantry for its versatility in recipes and food preservation. While it has some very specific uses, you can successfully substitute it with common kitchen staples like lemon juice, vinegars, cream of tartar when required.
Start by using smaller amounts of substitutes and adjust acidity and flavors as needed. Consider the texture and extra moisture from liquid substitutes. With the right citric acid substitute and ratio, you can effortlessly modify recipes and continue enjoying your homemade jams, pickles, cheeses and other delights even without citric acid powder.