I bought tomato paste that came from Italy that just contains tomatoes and no citric acid. Another jar of tomato passata also only contained tomatoes. Are Italian tomatoes more acidic or is there a reason that they don't seem to use citric acid? I would be more comfortable knowing the ph is at the right level for food safety reasons but perhaps it is?

  • 1
    I would put my faith in traditional cooking methods. Cooked tomato products are very safe because of the natural acidity. I’d actually be searching for pastes and sauces that didn’t have additives like citric acid.
    – Rasa Enak
    Feb 17, 2020 at 23:43
  • Have you got reference where tomato sauce/passata are not safe for comsumption ?
    – Max
    Feb 18, 2020 at 0:06
  • @Max no, I just wondered why since they use citric acid in North America usually. The answer to this question discusses acidity in tomatoes but doesn't answer my question though. cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/71567/…
    – padma
    Feb 18, 2020 at 0:28
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    I could be misunderstood in my comment about traditional cooking methods. There are plenty of sources warning about adjusting the pH when home canning tomatoes. But I would trust Italian food manufacturers to know how to avoid botulism etc. The EU has very rigorous food safety standards much like the US. That said I would trust local products that do uses food acids too. I’m inclined to think “more natural is better” but I’m not implying there are risks in consuming these acids. (The exception is “Succinic Acid” which is banned in some places.)
    – Rasa Enak
    Feb 18, 2020 at 5:06

3 Answers 3


Citric acid is added when the PH of the overall product is too high. Most of the time a product with pure tomatoes doesn't need any help with PH as the tomatoes should be acidic enough, when you see citric acid added you will usually see water added as well in some form. Water is added to bulk up the product and make it cheaper, some companies add tomato juice instead of water as it looks better on the labeling , but at the end of the day tomato juice is just flavored water. Water increases the overall PH level, so you have to bring it back up.

When you don't see citric acid in a can of tomatoes or a tomato product it's usually a sign that they are really good quality.

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    Not to mention that italian grandmas might flat-out refuse to buy a product with anything but tomatoes in it.
    – Borgh
    Feb 18, 2020 at 9:32
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    The purpose of E330 is listed as it's purpose. So when it's added to change pH it's listed as moderator. When it's added to keep pH then as a stabilizator. It can be also used as sequestrant OR as color aditive. The main purpose is (should?) be listed. If there is non I assume it's "all in one". Feb 18, 2020 at 9:51
  • Acid decreases the pH, so citric acid is used to lower the pH, not increase it. Water increases the pH of an acidic solution. Also, "[something needs] extra PH" is not a correct sentence, as pH is a measure for the acidity of a solution, not a quantity itself (although it is directly dependent on the quantity of hydrogen ions in the solution). Something can need more acid or base, but not more pH.
    – Tinuviel
    Feb 18, 2020 at 10:01
  • Thanks for pointing that out @Tinuviel, I can't believe I got that backwards!
    – GdD
    Feb 18, 2020 at 10:08
  • @GdD its an easy mistake to make, the root cause is that pH is derrived from a scientifc notation of the concentration, pH 7 means a 1*10^-7 concentration of Hydrogen atoms.
    – Borgh
    Feb 18, 2020 at 10:20

E330 - commonly named on a labels as citric acid to not scare consumers - is an antioxidant. In tomato sauce I would say it's used to stop it from browning (and as a mild conservative).
The difference beetwen European and North American is just a shelf life of sauce. Both on shelf in store and at home.

  • Most of the time Citric acid is added it is labeled as a PH moderator @SZCZERZOKLY.
    – GdD
    Feb 18, 2020 at 9:26
  • @GdD In Europe yes. In N. America? I don't think so. hellmanns.com/ca/en/products/hellmann-s-tartar-sauce.html Citric acid and "concetrated lemon juice". Sorry " CONCENTRATED LEMON JUICE CONCENTRATE" Feb 18, 2020 at 9:36
  • The purpose of CA in tomato products in my understanding really depends on the amount. In larger amounts it is definitely is as a PH modifier. In smaller quantities, it will often be as a color preservative. Sadly, having seen the practices of some US commercial facilities, they skip the color preservatives and simply add dye since preservatives will not turn green tomatoes or other off colors to red. Hint, I have seen them strip machine harvest fields taking all fruit regardless of color or condition.
    – dlb
    Feb 18, 2020 at 13:53

The citric acid in your tomato cans is insurance to cover the cost cutting and arguably lower standards without getting customers sick.

I'm american, but have traveled. Factory conditions in North America are not the same as in Europe. They are dirtier and more "cost efficient". Therefore american companies will take extra measures to ensure safety that traditional European methods and practices naturally provide.

For example, US eggs are laid in (relatively) filthy and overcrowded cages, so they get feces and food bits all over them right away. These eggs must be washed, which removes the natural mucus layer that protects the egg. This means US eggs need refrigerated, while European ones do not. Technically, the US eggs are "cleaner", but the back story is telling.

American tomato puree likely has fruit from the ground, over-ripe fruit, fruit where rotten sections are (hopefully) removed, etc. They then use chemicals and physical processes (microwave, UV, pasteurization, etc) to make sure these potentially dangerous supplies don't result in sickness. Taste suffers, but the costs can be lower.

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