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How to use citric acid - and why you might not want to use it anyway!

To be honest, I shied away of this topic, because I think, people can misinterpret this - big time.


I don't want to be part of the problem - I want to be part of the solution!
 But when Chris, over at A Bar Above discussed this subject- I literally could not resist to join into "the discussion".

Here is the video:





I - however take a bit slower approach than Chris.

What is citric acid?

Chemical Compound
Citric acid is a weak organic acid with the formula C6H8O7. It is a natural preservative/conservative and is also used to add an acidic or sour taste to foods and drinks.
Wikipedia Formula: C6H8O7
Molar Mass: 192.124 g/mol
Melting Point: 153C
Density: 1.66 g/cm3
Boiling point: 175C
Soluble in: Water

Why is it controversial?

In my "mixology world" it is controversial, as citric acid is the stuff, which makes the nightmarish sour mix [preferably in powder form] sour. Yeah - citric acid is the main ingredient in one of the most controversial [and in the modern craft bartending world 'rejected] ingredient - born in the darkest ages of bartending!

Why might it be cool?

First of all, you can use pretty much any ingredient in a better way. Look at contemporary avantgarde cuisine - the "Ferran Adria's" of the world are using food additives, which are used in the modern food industry in a different context: in the food industry, the ingredients are usually used to make things cheaper, more stable, more convenient [you name it] - the avantgarde chefs are using the additives to make things tastier, mind boggling, insanely complex... I guess you get it. Point is, that citric acid is not much different of MSG. On one hand, if it used without responsibility it is pretty the antipode of great cuisine. However it can be used conscious, and make things more delicious.

But Molecular Mixology is pretty much dead, and there are only few examples of bars, which are doing a really great job in this area...  

I fell in love with citric acid, when I was at the starting point of my "soda journey". I used syrups and sparkling water and lemons or limes, but never achieved the zing, which came with commercial sodas. If I used a bit more lemon or lime, everything just tasted like lemon or lime. However as soon as I discovered citric acid, I could "sour" pretty much every syrup and the sodas started to taste zingy and better than commercial sodas [though still had the same character as the commercial stuff]!

How to use it?

Citric acid comes in crystallized form and it is not that easy to dissolve it in a cold liquid. Chris, suggested to make a simple syrup out of it - and honestly I started exactly the same way. However I found, that if you are using other ingredients, the sugar might be too much.
So: I started to use only water and citric acid [currently I like 1:1 which is really sour]. It takes some time, to dissolve the citric acid... but after that it works like a peach!

There are two ways from there. One is the soda route. Use any botanicals [or make a syrup out of it] and add sugar and then add some citric acid. Be carefully ca. 1.5% [by weight] should suffice!
Second route, is the juice route. Look - eif you make a kinda Apple /|\@|2+1|\|1 [yeah - I am starting to write Martini in leet, if the drink is not a real martini - call me NERD] - or a neat sour apple cockail with Calvados, lemon or lime are disturbing the clean apple flavors! However green apple juice [if you are not lucky enough to have sour cider apple or unripe apples around] is not acidic enough to make a balanced cocktail! The citric acid jumps perfectly into the bracket - to provide a sour juice, which purely taste like its original fruit!
No - I still wouldn't use it in any cocktail, instead of lemons or limes - but would use it with other juices to substitute lemons or limes. And even the use of a drop of citric acid, in lemon drinks [think homemade lemonade] might make the drink more delicious. 
Think Meyer lemons - while they are delicious, they are also rather low on acidity. Hence the drink you are doing is a bit more [lemon] flavored but also a not as edgy. A bit C6H9O7 can defnitely help!

Substitutes?

Living in the Middle East, where a lot of things are simply not available, I found citric acid a kinda lifesaver.
But there are other acids, which you might use, if you don't have it - or - if you have a recipe which calls for the other acids, you could also substitute citric acid with it:
  • Malic Acid
  • Acid Phosphate
Wanna be a bit more daring?

No - I don't come here with some crazy citric acid recipes! As I said, use it in combination of juices or use it as sour agent, in sodas [or even bottled cocktails]. But:
You can make your own sodium citrate [which is an acidity regulator] by simply simmering water with citric acid and add bicarbonate of soda until the liquid stops to violently boil up [to get a powder, just evaporate all water]. What can you do with sodium citrate except of making the best cheese sauces ever [a bit a stretch to mixology]? Not yet a clue, but sodium citrate is often used in sodas as well - more testing needed!

A super bubbly rim:
Bored by your salt rims of a margarita or a sugar rim of another cocktail [I wouldn't necessary do this technique with a sidecar - but that is only me]? Just combine citric acid with sugar or salt and bicarbonate of soda and use it to rim your glasses. The mixture will react in your mouth and will crazy bubble like pop rocks!

So what are your experiences with citric acid?




  • Comments

    1. My favorite comment is that molecular is all but dead...Thank Jehovah of Bartending for that...Excellent article...it's real...I too am not a fan of using citric acid or anything as an easy way out or cost cutting agent...But it is also a tool to be used when the recipe or need calls for it..I have several things I do now that I cannot avoid using it and I have a specific and real reason to use it...begging the question, I think that is how all ingredients should be looked at...

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