I read that tomatoes are often not picked in the optimal ripeness for canning and because of this, citric acid is added to promote further ripening within the can.

I purchase bottled pasta sauce and canned tomato sauce and sometimes have a reaction from too much acid content.

Tomatoes are acidic enough without having to add acid to the product, in my opinion. Is there any brand of tomato sauce that does not add citric acid? Is there a brand of pasta sauce that does not include it?

I try to mitigate the acid by grating celery into the sauce and simmering for a while. Celery is a very alkaline vegetable and is often used in creating gravies.

I am also considering some Italian friends who say our jarred sauces are too spicy. I think perhaps the extra garlic, etc, is added to cover the acidic taste.

  • 7
    Your opinion and the opinion of food safety experts differ. Citric acid is there to lower the pH, period.
    – Ecnerwal
    Jul 21, 2016 at 15:17

6 Answers 6


Citric acid in canned goods is just a preservative, nothing to do with "ripening in the can" as far as I know.

As you've noticed, it's plenty common in storebought canned food, but it's especially useful in homemade canned food. It keeps canned vegetables from darkening/browning over time, and can be used to make them acidic enough to avoid worries about botulism and spoilage. (Other things like ascorbic acid can also be used to keep colors bright.)

If it's really a problem, you may be able to find canned tomatoes without it, most likely more expensive ones from brands that want to be able to have the ingredient label just say "tomatoes", perhaps organic tomatoes. You might also just try different brands even if they do contain citric acid; some of them might be more to your tastes.

But the acidity shouldn't be that strong, so it's quite likely that just a little bit of sugar will cover it up, and as a bonus it'll tend to enhance your perception of the tomato flavor too.

As for spiciness of jarred sauces... well, some are spicy, some aren't. It's just about making flavors to suit all tastes. Pick one you like!


If you want to raise the pH of your tomato sauce, add a quarter to a half teaspoon (1-2.5 g) of pickling lime (calcium hydroxide, Cal, slaked lime) per quart (L) of sauce. You could also use sodium bicarbonate, but that adds an awful flavor when you add enough to raise the pH. Celery, like sugar, will mask the acidity, but not reduce it. To do that you need to add a real base. Neutralized pickling lime has virtually no flavor on it's own, and contributes calcium to your dish.

  • Thank you. You're right about sodium bicarb. I tried that already and found out the hard way. I suppose one would use this stuff sparingly? Jul 22, 2016 at 10:19
  • 1
    Thank you. I tried the calcium hydroxide and it worked wonderfully. Now I don't have to go crazy reading labels in the supermarket. Jul 31, 2016 at 10:54

Acid doesn't ripen anything, it's not added in the can for that purpose, but to bulk up the acidity levels for long term storage. Even the best quality canned tomatoes often have citric acid added because the acidity in tomatoes by themselves is not enough for long term storage in a normal canning process. Some low quality brands may add more citric acid than necessary in order to add some flavor, they also add water, sugar and salt to make up for the lack of good tomatoes. Good canned tomatoes have no added water and sugar, they may add salt for preservation.

There are canned tomatoes without acidity regulators, they will probably be more expensive, but as they seem to be made with high quality tomatoes and have no water added they will likely be very tasty.

As for the too spicy argument, true Italian tomato sauces rely on the quality of the ingredients rather than added spices for flavor. Italian canned tomatoes are the best out there, you can make a great sauce with a can of good italian tomatoes, a bit of garlic, olive oil and a small pinch of herbs in the space of 5 minutes. If you want to impress your Italian friends try that.

  • I read about the ripening issue somewhere on the net. I've not been able to find a tomato sauce without the stuff and I go to a huge new supermarket that is well stocked. I have no local Italian deli. I think I purchase quality sauce because it certainly costs enough. Jul 22, 2016 at 10:22
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    Acid may break down the tissues of the tomato some over time, making them a bit softer. That's not ripening, it's the same principle as tenderizing. I've found it's cheaper to make my own sauces with really good ingredients than to buy pre-made, and they taste much better than even the top brands of pre-made sauces. It of course requires some time investment.
    – GdD
    Jul 22, 2016 at 10:32
  • You're right, but I'd have to start with really good plum tomatoes and in my area they all LOOK good, but some are pinkish and mealy inside, while others are red, juicy, and ripe, the way they should be. About the only good tomatoes I've been able to find are the clamshell Campari cocktail type. I do know that commercial tomatoes are cultivated for ease of transport, shelf life, and outward appearance, not for flavor or vitamin content. tomea Jul 23, 2016 at 12:59

You're not likely to find pasta sauce or canned tomatoes without citric acid as its naturally found in tomatoes and used as a preservative. Tomatoes are considered to be a fruit since they have seeds and fruit does naturally contain citric acid. Tomatoes do have lower citric acid counts per 100 grams then citrus though if they're giving anyone a reaction it may be best to avoid having tomatoes in your diet.


I don't know if you're still looking for good canned tomatoes, but I, too, don't like added citric acid, as it messes with the flavor of the sauce. I actually am Italian, and have been making my own sauce for over 30 years; it's truly so easy for anyone and not even necessay to add a bunch of spices and such. I use Cento for exactly that reason...no added anything to hinder its integrity, flavor-wise or health-wise, just vine ripened tomatoes. My local grocery store, Giant Foods, carries it, but if yours doesn't, I know Target does, as well. In all my life, I've never once run across a jarred sauce with a decent flavor, no matter how much you doctor it up. Good luck and happy cooking!


I tend to use fresh tomatoes when ingredients call for it, but if I am in a hurry and don't have time to blanch, peel and crush/cut then I have found Pomi makes a decent prepared tomato product that does not contain any additives.

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