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Malic Acid vs. Citric Acid: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 20, 2023
Malic acid, a tart-tasting organic compound found in apples, is used for flavoring and as a preservative, while citric acid, a weak organic acid in citrus fruits, is known for its sour taste and as an antioxidant.

Key Differences

Malic acid, with the formula C4H6O5, is primarily found in apples and other fruits. Citric acid, C6H8O7, is abundant in citrus fruits like lemons and oranges.
Malic acid imparts a tart flavor, enhancing fruit flavors in food and beverages. Citric acid, known for its sour taste, is widely used in the food industry, especially in soft drinks and candies.
Malic acid is used in cosmetics for its hydrating properties and in the food industry as a preservative. Citric acid serves as a natural preservative, pH adjuster, and cleaning agent in various industries.
Both acids are involved in the Krebs cycle, but malic acid also plays a key role in the malate-aspartate shuttle in cellular respiration. Citric acid is crucial in the first step of the citric acid cycle.
Malic acid supplements are known for their potential benefits in skin care and fibromyalgia treatment. Citric acid is valued for its antioxidant properties but can erode tooth enamel in high concentrations.

Comparison Chart

Chemical Formula


Natural Source

Apples, fruits
Citrus fruits like lemons, oranges

Taste Profile

Tart flavor
Sour taste

Industrial Use

Food preservation, cosmetics
Preservative, cleaning agent, pH adjuster

Role in Metabolism

Involved in malate-aspartate shuttle
Key role in the citric acid cycle

Malic Acid and Citric Acid Definitions

Malic Acid

An alpha hydroxy acid used in skin care products.
Skin care creams often contain malic acid for hydration.

Citric Acid

A key intermediate in the citric acid cycle in metabolism.
Citric acid is vital for energy production in our cells.

Malic Acid

Used as a food additive for flavor enhancement.
Malic acid is added to candy to give it a sour flavor.

Citric Acid

An antioxidant and pH adjuster in cosmetics and cleaning products.
Many cleaning agents contain citric acid for its pH-balancing properties.

Malic Acid

A component in the Krebs cycle of cellular respiration.
Malic acid plays a crucial role in our body's energy production.

Citric Acid

Used as a flavoring and preservative in foods and beverages.
Citric acid is commonly added to soft drinks for tartness.

Malic Acid

A tart-tasting organic compound found in apples.
Malic acid is responsible for the tartness of green apples.

Citric Acid

A weak organic acid found in citrus fruits.
Citric acid gives lemons their characteristically sour taste.

Malic Acid

An acid used in the food industry as a preservative.
Malic acid helps preserve the freshness of packaged foods.

Citric Acid

Employed in pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements.
Citric acid is used in effervescent tablets for its acidity.


What is citric acid?

A weak organic acid found in citrus fruits, known for its sourness.

What is malic acid?

An organic compound found in fruits, notably apples, with a tart taste.

What are the uses of malic acid in food?

As a flavor enhancer and preservative.

What is the role of citric acid in cleaning products?

As a pH adjuster and cleaning agent.

Is malic acid natural?

Yes, it is naturally found in many fruits.

Is citric acid natural or synthetic?

It can be both, naturally found in fruits or industrially produced.

Where is citric acid most abundant?

In citrus fruits like lemons and oranges.

Where is malic acid commonly found?

In apples, pears, and other fruits.

How does malic acid benefit skin care?

It hydrates and rejuvenates skin.

Is malic acid safe for consumption?

Yes, when used in appropriate amounts.

What are citric acid's uses in food?

As a flavoring agent, preservative, and acidulant.

Can malic acid be used in beverages?

Yes, especially in fruit-flavored drinks.

Can malic acid be synthetic?

Yes, it can also be manufactured synthetically.

How is citric acid used in pharmaceuticals?

In effervescent tablets and as a stabilizer in medicines.

Does malic acid have health benefits?

It's believed to aid in skin care and muscle pain relief.

Are there health risks with citric acid?

High concentrations can erode tooth enamel.

What is the role of malic acid in metabolism?

It's involved in the Krebs cycle and energy production.

Why is citric acid added to soft drinks?

For tartness and to balance sweetness.

How does citric acid function in metabolism?

As a key component in the citric acid cycle.

What industries use citric acid extensively?

Food, beverage, cosmetics, and cleaning industries.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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