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I'm making lemonade, but no matter what ratios of lemon to sugar I use, I can't get that tartness and tang that I can taste in my favourite commercial drinks. I noticed that even with drinks that don't have a citrus flavour, they sometimes have that tartness, so I examined the ingredients of various tangy drinks.

I managed to narrow down that tart drinks tend to have the ingredients citric acid and trisodium citrate. Neither of those ingredients are things I can get at the grocery store. Is there anything I can get at the grocery store that will have the same tartness as those ingredients? It needs to be something cheap please, because the whole reason I'm making my own lemonade is to avoid the expense of the ready made stuff.

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Citric acid is available in many supermarkets, look in the baking aisle. If not, try getting it over the Internet, just make sure it says "food grade". Or use cream of tartar, it doesn't have the somewhat lemony taste of citric acid, but is similarly sour. Make sure to measure the pH, if you drink big portions of drink with too low a pH, you can get health problems. –  rumtscho Apr 25 '11 at 9:29
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@rumtscho- this is what I was going to say. Make this an answer not a comment. –  Sobachatina Apr 25 '11 at 12:22

4 Answers 4

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Some years ago I tried a lemonade in southern Peru. It was very tangy and creamy. I asked the waiter how they made it and he replied that they blended a whole lemon with its peel. The juice was then strained. It was g

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Wow, this worked great. Who'da thunk? –  tangy tangy nom nom Apr 27 '11 at 18:30

Citric acid is available at many supermarkets worldwide, and if you can't find it in any of your supermarkets, you should almost certainly be able to find it in a bulk food, health food, or baking supplies store.

As rumtscho helpfully points out in the comments, you can also find it online, i.e. on Amazon, but do make sure that it is actually food grade (the linked product is).

Trisodium citrate (more colloquially referred to simply as sodium citrate or just citrate) is a buffer intended to reduce the acidity of the final product. It's normally used in molecular recipes where a particular gelling agent needs a certain pH range. It's possible that some lemonade makers are using it to control the flavour as well, i.e. by adding more citric acid than expected and then buffering it out, in order to reduce the "lemony" flavour.

That is probably not what you want for homemade lemonade, so don't bother trying to locate trisodium citrate. Just experiment with small amounts of citric acid.

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I didn't post a full answer before, because I didn't have the time to expand on one. Aaronut spared me time by writing 2/3 of what I would have (citric acid, citrate) and presenting it very well. I won't repeat that part. But there is another point which I find important:

When you say "tangy", do you really mean "sour"? Because for me, "tangy" means a combination of "sour" + "astringent", with sometimes a hint of "bitter" thrown in.

This means that even if you drink pure lemon juice, your drink will still not appear tangy enough to you. You need to add astringency.

The way commercial drinks add it is by carbonation. There are systems you can use to carbonate your own drinks at home, but you'll have to make the investment first.

You could try making your lemonade with store-bought carbonated water, but given the price difference between carbonated water and store-bought lemonade on the one hand and tap water and carbonated water on the other hand, it will probably not let you save much money. It will, however, help you drink better quality lemonade (as in, made from real fresh fruit instead of synthetic flavors).

Another way you can achieve it is fermentation. Don't let it go on too long, you don't want an alcoholic drink. The trouble is, with wild cultures you never know when a batch will turn out good and when it will have off-flavors.

You can also add ingredients which are by themselves astringent. Chokeberries resp. their juice would be a perfect choice for a lemonade, if you don't mind the red color. Quinces shouldn't add much color. There are no other easy astringent ingredients I can think of right now, except for a tea of oak bark, but the taste will need lots of getting used to if used in a lemonade.

If you find out that it's the astringency you've been missing, you probably need no additional citric acid.

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It's not too costly to carbonate at home; the iSi soda siphon is inexpensive (around $50 I think) and some of the higher-up models can accept CO2 cartridges. It'll take a while to pay for itself, but it will eventually (and has many other uses). Mind you, I don't think I've ever had carbonated lemonade, but to each his own... –  Aaronut Apr 25 '11 at 21:00
    
I don't carbonate homemade lemonade either, but I can see how someone accustomed to fanta & co might miss it. I'd still recommend to the OP to make a try with bottled carbonated water first and only buy a siphon if the carbonated version works for him. Of course, the problem could theoretically be in the sourness, but with lemon, he should be able to achieve a very sour drink by just adding more lemon juice. Citric acid will make for a cheaper drink, but some preliminary tries with more lemon will show if the problem is missing sourness or astringency. –  rumtscho Apr 25 '11 at 21:12

Are the lemons by themselves tart enough for you? If not then perhaps you need a better source of lemons (or you could try the citric acid route some people have suggested). If they are then you probably need to add less water. I would imagine that the water would have as big if not more of an impact on the sour/tartness level as the sugar.

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