Peninei Halakha

08. Citric Acid

Citric acid is used to flavor juices, jams, candies, and various food items. In the past it was extracted from lemons and other fruit, but nowadays it is produced commercially from wheat flour.

Although during the production process the flour is initially mixed with water and may become ḥametz, at a later stage it loses its taste and appearance, is rendered unfit for a dog’s consumption, and thus loses its status as ḥametz. Some poskim therefore permit eating products containing citric acid on Pesaḥ (Yeḥaveh Da’at 2:62).

In contrast, many poskim are stringent in this case. In their opinion, ḥametz only loses its status if it becomes unfit for a dog’s consumption due to spoilage. If it is intentionally rendered inedible so that it may be used to flavor foods, it is not nullified and is considered ḥametz for all purposes (Minḥat Yitzḥak 7:27; Or Le-Tziyon 1:34; Shevet Ha-Levi 4:47).

The halakha follows the lenient view, and in accordance with the words of R. She’ar Yashuv Cohen, of blessed memory, the municipal rabbi of Haifa, who investigated and found that there is no concern that citric acid is ḥametz. First, the flour that starts the process does not become ḥametz since it sits in water for only six minutes – not enough time to become ḥametz. Second, the starch is then extracted from the mixture, and starch alone cannot become ḥametz. Third, citric acid is not produced from the wheat starch itself, but from molds that feed off a substance whose ingredients include a material extracted from the unleavened starch.[10]

[10]. This debate is very extensive, and the key questions are: Is something that was batel be-shishim before Pesaḥ ḥozer ve-ne’or once Pesaḥ begins? Even if not, would a stabilizing agent (“davar ha-ma’amid”) be any different? And what if it is not the sole agent? The Badatz and many other kosher-certification agencies are very strict about citric acid and similar products. However, according to R. She’ar Yashuv Cohen’s long essay in Teḥumin vol. 1, it seems clear that there is no reason for concern that citric acid contains ḥametz. More precisely: the starch is first separated from the gluten by spinning the wheat flour in water for six minutes. As we know, it takes 18 minutes for flour and water to become ḥametz, so the flour could not have become ḥametz in those six minutes. By then the starch, which has already been separated from the gluten, cannot become ḥametz, because the gluten is the substance within the flour where the leavening takes place. Without gluten, starch cannot become ḥametz. The starch is then heated to 140ºC until it liquefies as dextrose (glucose). This heating process destroys the existing molecules and changes their composition. To dispel any doubt, an attempt was made to leaven this substance, but it was unsuccessful.

The liquid dextrose is then mixed with sulfur to destroy the enzymes in it and render it inert and unable to ferment. Since it never had the chance to become ḥametz, it certainly will not become ḥametz in the future. This is the first stage of the process, which shows that the extracted starch does not become ḥametz. The next step is to place the liquid into large vats, to feed the molds. It is left until the mold has finished digesting all of the dextrose and excreted another substance: citric acid. Thus, citric acid is not a product of the starch, but a product of the mold. Just as if one used organic fertilizer that contained remnants of bread to fertilize vegetables, the vegetables would undoubtedly be kosher for Pesaḥ, certainly citric acid excreted by molds that digested a liquid that never became ḥametz in the first place would be kosher for Pesaḥ. This conclusion has major implications for other industrial ingredients that use wheat starch that never became ḥametz and that undergoes fundamental alterations before being reintegrated into food.

Chapter Contents

Order Now
Order Now

For Purchasing

in Israel
Har Bracha Publications
Tel: 02-9709588
Fax: 02-9974603

Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman