HomelabelsMozzarella, that's why be wary of citric acid

Mozzarella, that's why be wary of citric acid

There is mozzarella and mozzarella. Natural coagulation, by adding whey to raw milk. Or rapid coagulation, with citric acid, perhaps also from frozen curd of unknown origin.

This is why you should be wary of stretched curd cheeses that show the presence of the citric acid additive (E330) in the ingredients list, and above all expect to know when the product was made with curds that come from afar instead of milk.

Italian dairy products, traditions of glory

Dairy culture in Italy it is expressed with a variety of 539 typical products, including cheeses and other dairy products (eg ricotta). Double that of the 265 varieties of cheese celebrated in France in a historic statement by General Charles De Gaulle. But authenticity is more than numbers, that is to say respect for traditions and human skills in symbiosis with animals and the biodiversity of places.

Raw milk cheeses represent the milestone, since the curd obtained from its cheese making preserves the microbial profile known as 'native flora'. That is to say, that udder and environmental microbiota that exactly expresses meadows and pastures, legumes and cereals, "terroir" and microclimate. Hay milk - what that is derives from cows raised on pasture - it is distinguished among other things by the different fatty acid composition of the lipid fraction. To the point of doubling the Omega 3 content and significantly increasing the quantities of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), great allies of cardiovascular health.

Mozzarella, premise

Mozzarella in a preserving liquid, made from cow's milk, it is a fresh cheese without a rind, with a delicate taste, particularly appreciated for its elastic consistency and juiciness. The characteristic flavor of some mozzarella is mainly due to a first slight proteolytic attack on proteins by bacterial enzymes associated with the acidity developed by lactic bacteria and salt. It is therefore a balance between bitter, sour and salty.

Some dairies, in the processing of buffalo dairy products, they 'premature' raw milk to favor proteolysis and thus the initial development of the microbiota. Over the last few decades, however, the need to extend the durability of the product as much as possible, also to reach the most distant markets, has contributed to the standardization of the product and the flattening of the taste. Raw milk production therefore now represents a glorious niche.

Authentic mozzarella, natural coagulation

Raw milk - with its following of environmental lactobacilli, yeasts and ferments - it coagulates thanks to the addition of rennet and natural whey ferments, where required. That is, by means of natural grafting, or starter selected. The natural acidification of the curd separated from the whey is activated, in practice, by the grafts grown in the whey that remains from the previous day's cheese production (so-called whey graft). The lactic bacteria of the graft digest lactose and transform it into lactic acid, in at least 3 hours (even 4-5, in winter) at room temperature (30-35 ° C, especially if the fermentation takes place under whey). And a mature curd is formed, that is, a ready-to-string dough, with a naturally reduced lactose content. In lactic fermentation the reduction of the original lactose content is about 30%, compared to the starting curd.

The curd in turn it maintains the original microbial profile and the metabolic activity continues throughout the process, giving the products unique aromatic profiles and flavors. The activity of most bacteria actually ends with spinning, a thermal-mechanical treatment that involves the inactivation of heat-sensitive microorganisms. Their activity continues instead - in provola, scamorze and caciocavalli destined for aging - even during the refinement (alias seasoning), so as to carry out proteolysis and lipolysis. (1)

Mozzarella with critical acid

Traditional it gives way to 'economist' dictates in many industrial productions where organic acids are used to correct the pH of milk. Citric acid is in fact a 'technological shortcut' that activates coagulation in minutes. These productions are sometimes presented as 'artisanal', for the sole fact of being made in more or less small plants. But they have nothing to do with authentic dairy art.

The curd, in order to spin correctly, it must be partially demineralized by uniformly lowering its pH, in order to release a certain quantity of colloidal calcium in the serum. To obtain this result, as an alternative to natural fermentation, many producers resort to chemistry. By adding citric acid, or lactic acid, to milk. The first is more effective because it associates acidity with the power to sequester calcium, so less of it is used and coagulation at pH 5,85 is obtained.

Frozen curds, the hidden ingredient of many industrial productions

Many (pseudo) 'mozzarella' and other (pseudo) stretched curd 'cheeses' made from frozen curds of distant origin - usually often from Northern Europe (Germany, Poland, Ukraine above all) and from the Baltic countries - instead of raw and fresh milk.

Le curds on closer inspection they are compound ingredients (milk, rennet) and as such they should be indicated in the list of ingredients of the finished product. But this does not happen, due to a lewd interpretation of the current rules endorsed by MiPAAF and other authorities.

Citric acid and lactose, the real cost of sweetness

Citric acid used in most of the 'industrial' mozzarella - which are distinguished by its presence, as an additive, in the ingredient list - keep the lactose largely intact (although it is not concentrated in the curd but is lost in the whey and subsequently in the water of spinning, in that of firming and cooling and finally in the preserving liquid).

The fermentation On the other hand, activated by the whey graft, it transforms part of the lactose into lactic acid, which does not happen when an organic acid (citric acid, lactic acid) is added. The resulting mozzarella is also therefore easier to digest.


Various schools of thought have repeatedly evoked the alleged 'toxicity' of fresh dairy products. The largest epidemiological study on the subject - conducted on 5 continents on 136.384 adults, followed for 9 consecutive years - published on The Lancet, however, has denied this thesis. (2) But no one seems to have thought that the poor digestibility of some products, such as mozzarella with citric acid, should instead be traced back to the manufacturing process.

The use of delactosed milk it has the sole function of reducing lactose residues to acceptable levels for people who are intolerant to it. Only for this category of consumers - who are always advised to undergo appropriate diagnosis, before excluding various foods from your diets - it makes sense to resort to fresh cheeses, ricotta and melted cheeses'lactose-free'. On the other hand, it makes less sense to choose lactose-free yogurt, since lactic bacteria supply lactase in quantities. Or lactose-free butter, which in any case has minimal quantities left over.

Shopping tips

Traditional mozzarella - produced with natural whey or lactograft and rigorously free of citric acid - it offers a wealth of microorganisms that can interact favorably with the intestinal microbiota, among other things responsible for the immune response in the intestine. It is one of the protagonists of the Mediterranean diet, thanks also to the contributions - characteristic of both types of mozzarella - of nutrients (proteins, fats) and micronutrients (e.g. calcium, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, beta-carotene, vitamins A and group B, AND).

Then it's worth it learn to appreciate its authentic, fresh and slightly acidic flavors. And to distinguish the distinctive aromatic profiles of the various "terroir" which in Italy it is still possible to find. Giving up those homologated sweet flavors, instead characteristic of products with citric (or lactic) acid, under the banner of promotional offers. Better less, but better.

Provisional conclusions

We must learn to distinguish industrially produced mozzarella (lactic and citric) and artisan mozzarella (raw, thermised or pasteurized milk). Artisan mozzarella is certainly to be favored, for the reasons set out above. And we must fight on every front for transparency on the label, so that consumers can distinguish:

- mozzarella from natural whey (or lactograft) compared to those with citric (or lactic) acid,

- products made (in whole or in part) from frozen curds rather than from milk. Always keeping in mind that the quality of the primary ingredient and the processing make a big difference.

Dario Dongo and Michele Polignieri


(1) See Assolatte. Seasoning of the cheesehttp://www.assolatte.it/it/home/salute_benessere_detail/1433415726016/1505377574527

(2) Paola Palestini. Milk and health, The Worldwide Study in The Lancet. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 3.12.18/XNUMX/XNUMX, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/salute/latte-e-salute-the-worldwide-study-su-the-lancet 

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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Veterinary director at the ASL of Bari, master in food culture at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, member of the panel on extra virgin olive oil at the Bari Chamber of Commerce and lively food critic.

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