Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Citrus Allergy Question
Today's post is to answer a reader who recently sent emailed me with the following question: "My son just recently got diagnosed with a citrus intolerance. He doesn't have an allergic reaction to it... so it's not a typical "allergy" but I need to treat it like one. So anyway, absolutely every thing has citric acid in it it seems. I heard that most citric acid in processed foods actually come from corn. Do you know if there's any truth to that?"
Hm. I had no idea the answer to this one, but i did some research and came up with the following.
According to Wikipedia, commercial citric acid is produced by: "cultures of Aspergillus niger are fed on a sucrose or glucose-containing medium to produce citric acid. The source of sugar is corn steep liquor, molasses, hydrolyzed corn starch or other inexpensive sugary solutions. After the mold is filtered out of the resulting solution, citric acid is isolated by precipitating it with lime (calcium hydroxide) to yield calcium citrate salt, from which citric acid is regenerated by treatment with sulfuric acid."
I also found that in some cases citric acid is made with pineapple juice or lemon juice but these are far more expensive so the mold/corn/sugar combination mentioned in Wikipedia is far more likely.
So the answer is YES, a majority of commercial citric acid is produced with corn. The Aspergillus niger is also a mold, so people who are allergic to mold may also react to commercial citric acid. So those with corn allergies should also avoid citric acid as well. What a world.
Citric acid is used as both a preservative as well as a flavoring, so obviously anything with a tart taste will contain it. In addition to fruit juices, it's also included in places you wouldn't think like soda and ice cream. The sites I sourced (listed below) also noted to be careful of toiletries including citric acid (the rule of thumb was any ingredient that began with "citr-" contained it), but they found that Dove soap did not.
The answer is to try to cook at home as much as possible. I try to make a lot of some staples and keep them in the freezer for the times when I just don't have the time to cook from scratch. Soup stocks, brownies, waffles are ready in a hurry. A good substitute for cooking with lemon juice is to substitute vinegar when the recipe calls for a small amount (I like champagne and sherry vinegars).
Additionally, I had no idea that while rare, citrus allergy reactions could be so severe. Mine is fairly sensitive (just being around the sliced lemon I photographed made my sinuses hurt) but not brutal. And btw, does anyone else get the "you are obviously insane" look from restaurant servers when you ask them to NOT serve your water with a lemon slice? :) If they bring it by accident I usually have to send it back because just one or two swallows of water with a lemon squeeze makes me react.
Here are the URLs for the sources I used to answer this question.
I tried to shoot some lemons to make them look appropriately evil for this topic.