Citric acid is a weak acid with quite a few culinary applications. It is used in cheese-making to acidify the milk and it is added to borscht to give it a tart note. Citric acid is also an effective preservative that you can find in many beverages. Due to its very specific and important role, it is not an ingredient that you can simply omit. To replace it, consider one of the citric acid substitutes below.
Your best bet: Lemon juice
Lemon juice is one of the best sources of citric acid. In addition to providing much of the sour taste that you want from citric acid, lemon juice will also provide nutrients not found in citric acid. Vitamin C is one of those nutrients. You get about 3 g of citric acid from the juice of a whole lemon. Note that this can vary depending on the lemon’s size and the cultivar.
Because lemon juice is a liquid and pure citric acid is in the form of a powdered salt, it may be necessary to alter your recipe to compensate for its presence. Reduce the total amount of other liquids in your recipe to keep it from becoming too runny.
A decent second choice: Tartaric acid
Tartaric acid comes from grapes while citric acid comes from citrus fruit. Both are used as souring agents and can give a pleasantly sour taste to your dishes. Tartaric acid is the source of acidity in wines made from grapes and is commonly used in combination with baking soda to make cream of tartar. While many refer to cream of tartar as tartaric acid, the truth is that they are quite different due to the extra potassium molecule in cream of tartar. The extra potassium molecule keeps cream of tartar from being water-soluble, whereas tartaric acid does dissolve in water.
Tartaric acid is sold as a powder, just like citric acid. Because it is a powder, no adjustments to the liquids in your recipe will be necessary.
Tartaric acid has a much stronger acidic taste than citric acid, which means that you will need to use much less of it. Use a quarter of what your recipe requires for citric acid.
In a pinch: Vinegar
Vinegar is acetic acid that has been diluted with water. It typically consists of 4 to 7 percent acetic acid with 93 to 96 percent water. In other words, it can be described as a weak acetic acid. Like citric acid, it is a souring agent that can be used to provide a flavor that is very similar to that of citric acid. As with lemon juice, it may be necessary to adjust your recipe to compensate for the extra liquid that vinegar brings when you use it to replace citric acid. Note that there are various different types of vinegar and not all are good substitutes for citric acid. Use white distilled vinegar, which provides acidity with no flavors that might clash with those in your dish.
Note that vinegar is considerably less acidic than citric acid. When using vinegar as a citric acid substitute, you will need to use approximately four times the amount that your recipe specifies for
Ascorbic acid can be used in some applications that require citric acid. Ascorbic acid is another acid found in citrus fruits. It is the chemical name for vitamin C and can provide food with a tart note while also acting as a preservative. Crushed vitamin C tablets are a good source of ascorbic acid.