What is the Difference Between Malic Acid and Citric Acid

Malic acid and citric acid are two organic acids commonly found in fruits and utilized in various food and beverage products. However, there is a distinct difference between malic acid and citric acid, which makes them unique in terms of taste and usage.

What is the difference between malic acid and citric acid? Malic acid is often described as having a sharper, more pronounced sour taste compared to citric acid.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Malic Acid  
      – Definition, Features 
2. What is Citric Acid
      – Definition, Features 
3. Similarities Between Malic Acid and Citric Acid
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Malic Acid and Citric Acid
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Malic Acid and Citric Acid
      – Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Malic Acid, Citric Acid

Difference Between Malic Acid and Citric Acid - Comparison Summary

What is Malic Acid

Malic acid is a naturally occurring organic compound that is important in various industries, ranging from food and beverages to cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Its chemical formula, C4H6O5, reflects its molecular structure consisting of four carbon atoms, six hydrogen atoms, and five oxygen atoms. The compound derives its name from the Latin word “malum,” meaning apple, as it was first isolated from apple juice.

One of the most notable characteristics of malic acid is its sour taste, similar to that of green apples. This tartness makes it a popular additive in the food and beverage industry, where it serves as a flavor enhancer and acidulant. It is commonly used in the production of soft drinks, candies, and fruit-flavored snacks, imparting a tangy flavor profile.

Malic Acid

Beyond its culinary applications, malic acid plays a crucial role in the field of cosmetics. Due to its gentle exfoliating properties, it is utilized in skincare products to promote cell turnover, resulting in smoother and brighter skin. Additionally, its ability to adjust pH levels makes it a valuable ingredient in skincare formulations, ensuring optimal compatibility with the skin.

In the pharmaceutical industry, malic acid finds utility as a component in oral medications and supplements. Its inclusion helps improve the taste and palatability of formulations, facilitating patient compliance. Moreover, malic acid has been studied for its potential health benefits, including its role in energy production within the body and its antioxidant properties.

Furthermore, malic acid has garnered attention in the agricultural sector for its role in enhancing plant growth and resilience. As a key intermediate in the tricarboxylic acid cycle, it contributes to the metabolism of plants, influencing various physiological processes crucial for their development.

What is Citric Acid

Citric acid is a naturally occurring compound found in citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, limes, and grapefruits. Its molecular formula, C6H8O7 embodies its acidic properties, making it an essential additive in food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and cleaning agents.

In the food industry, citric acid acts as a flavor enhancer and preservative. Its tart taste adds a refreshing zest to sodas, candies, jams, and sauces. Furthermore, it inhibits microbial growth, prolonging the shelf life of packaged foods and beverages. As a chelating agent, it binds to metal ions, preventing oxidation and discoloration in fruits and vegetables during processing and storage.

Citric Acid

In pharmaceuticals, citric acid serves as an excipient in medications, aiding in drug solubility and stability. It also acts as a buffering agent, maintaining the pH of oral solutions and effervescent tablets. Its mild acidity makes it a safe and effective component in skincare products, serving as a gentle exfoliant and pH adjuster.

In household cleaners, citric acid’s acidic nature enables it to dissolve mineral deposits and remove stains from surfaces. Its eco-friendly profile makes it a preferable alternative to harsh chemicals in descaling agents and dishwasher detergents.

Citric acid plays a pivotal role in biological processes within the human body. As an intermediate in the citric acid cycle, it facilitates the generation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cellular energy currency. Additionally, its antioxidant properties help combat oxidative stress and promote overall health.

Similarities Between Malic Acid and Citric Acid

  1. Malic acid and citric acid are organic acids found naturally in fruits.
  2. They are commonly used as food additives for their sour or tart taste, enhancing flavor in various food and beverage products.
  3. Both acids are used in the food industry as acidulants, preservatives, flavoring agents, and pH regulators.

Difference Between Malic Acid and Citric Acid


Malic acid is an organic acid with the chemical formula C4H6O5, while citric acid is an organic acid with the formula C6H8O7.

Found in

While malic acid is found in many fruits, particularly in apples, citric acid is abundant in citrus fruits like lemons and oranges.


Malic acid contributes to the sour taste of fruits like apples and is often described as sharper or more tart compared to citric acid, which has a milder, slightly sweeter taste.


In conclusion, while both malic acid and citric acid are organic acids with distinct molecular formulas and sources, their applications span various industries. Malic acid, primarily found in apples, contributes to the tartness of fruits and serves as a flavor enhancer in food and beverages, a skincare ingredient, and a component in pharmaceuticals. On the other hand, citric acid, abundant in citrus fruits, acts as a preservative, flavor enhancer, cleaning agent, and vital component in biological processes within the human body. Despite their differences, both acids share the commonality of being organic acids with significant roles in numerous applications.

FAQ: Malic Acid and Citric Acid

1. What is malic acid used for?

Malic acid is widely used in the food industry to enhance the sweetness or tartness of fruit and vegetable juices, carbonated soft drinks, jams, wines, and candies. It is also used in cosmetics, such as self-tanning creams, cleansing forms, and facial creams to adjust pH.

2. What is the best source of malic acid?

The best source of malic acid is apples. Bananas, cherries, grapes, mangos, strawberries, nectarines, and oranges are other fruits that are fairly good sources of malic acid.

3. Why is malic acid soluble in water?

Malic acid is soluble in water due to its polar nature. Malic acid molecules contain functional groups such as carboxylic acid (-COOH) and hydroxyl (-OH), which impart polarity to the molecule. Water molecules are also polar due to their dipole nature, with the oxygen atom being more electronegative than the hydrogen atoms. As a result, malic acid molecules can form hydrogen bonds with water molecules, facilitating their dissolution in water.

4. Is malic acid D or L?

Both D and L forms exist in malic acid. L-malic acid occurs naturally in all organisms, while D-malic acid must be synthesized in the laboratory.

5. Does malic acid help digestion?

Malic acid may offer some digestive benefits. Its sour taste can stimulate saliva production, aiding in the initial stages of digestion. Additionally, malic acid’s acidity may help trigger gastric acid secretion, promoting the breakdown of food in the stomach.


1. “Malic Acid.” WebMD.
2. “Citric Acid.” Health Line.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Äpfelsäure3.” By NEUROtiker (talk) – Own work (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Zitronensäure – Citric acid” By NEUROtiker – Own work (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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