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We may not know it, but we encounter compounds called carboxylic acids regularly.

These substances are in our kitchens and medicine cabinets and are used in various industrial applications. In this lesson, we will learn all about carboxylic acids.

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Structural Formula and Properties

Carboxylic acids are among us – they are used in manufacturing common items we have at home, like soap, vinegar, and aspirin. There are so many commercial products that we use that are manufactured using carboxylic acids. So, what exactly are carboxylic acids? Carboxylic acids are a classification of organic compounds. They are organic because they contain carbon (C) in their chemical structure.

These Substances are Manufactured Using Carboxylic Acids
Structural Formula of a Carboxylic Acid

We can see that the structural formula of a carboxylic acid can be written in two ways. On the left (1), it shows all the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen bonds, while on the right (2), the carbon atom is represented by a bend in the structural formula.For instance, in benzoic acid, the R group (boxed in red) is a ring of carbon and hydrogen atoms with alternating double bonds. In salicylic acid, shown below, the R group (boxed in red) is a ring of carbon and hydrogen atoms bonded together with an -OH group attached to the ring.

Examples of Carboxylic Acids

Carboxylic acids are polar substances. When we say polar, this means that the electrical charge within the compound is not balanced; there is a part of the compound that has a partial positive charge and another part with a partial negative charge. Because carboxylic acids are polar substances, they can dissolve in other polar substances like water.

Carboxylic Acids Are Polar Substances

Another property of carboxylic acids is their boiling points tend to be higher than water. For instance, the boiling point of water is 100 degrees Celsius.

Salicylic acid, a carboxylic acid, has a boiling point of 211 degrees Celsius – much higher than water.Carboxylic acids are also classified as weak acids, and they tend to have strong odors. For instance, acetic acid, a carboxylic acid, is a component of vinegar, and this acid accounts for the strong pungent smell of vinegar.

Let’s also think about the strong smell of vomit – its strong smell can also be attributed to the carboxylic acid, butyric acid, present in the vomit.There are so many carboxylic acids with various uses. We have a lot of household products that have carboxylic acids as components.

Carboxylic acids are not only in commercial products – they are also an important part of nutrition. Let’s take a look at some common carboxylic acids and how they are used.

In Fatty Acids

Did you know that fatty acids fall under the classification of carboxylic acids? These fatty acids have the carboxyl group (-COOH), and attached to the carboxyl group is a long chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms.Peanut butter, cheese, chicken, and eggs – all of these contain fatty acids.

Fatty acids, which make up fat, are an important part of our nutrition. Having the right amount and the healthy type of fat daily is great for our health because it can help our bodies function efficiently each day. This way, our blood cholesterol would be at a healthy level, it would lower the risk of heart disease, and it could even reduce the risk of cancer. Here is an image showing a few examples of carboxylic acids (fatty acids) and their sources.

Some Fatty Acids and Their Sources

In Health and Medicine

Our health and our bodies are very important. Do you ever wonder what ingredient in our acne creams can make those pesky pimples go away? It is a carboxylic acid called salicylic acid.

Do you occasionally experience that inconvenient headache after a long day of work? You can say goodbye to that if you use aspirin, which contains a carboxylic acid called acetylsalicylic acid.Does the name ascorbic acid ring a bell? This is a carboxylic acid found in vitamin C. Carboxylic acids are even present in antibiotic creams.

Indeed, carboxylic acids are very important components that are essential to our skin care, immune health, and medicine.

Carboxylic Acids in Skin Care and Medicine

In Food

What role do carboxylic acids play in food? They are commonly used as preservatives. If you ever wonder why the jarred pickles last so long, or why your orange juice lasts a while in your refrigerator, it is because of the use of a carboxylic acid called benzoic acid as a preservative.Another common role of carboxylic acids in food is flavoring. Do you like sour candy? What do you think makes it sour? The sour flavor that you experience is due to a carboxylic acid called citric acid. Vinegar, a must-have cooking condiment, contains a fairly well-known carboxylic acid called acetic acid, which is responsible for its pungent and distinct smell and its sour flavor.

Carboxylic Acids in Food

Lesson Summary

Carboxylic acids are organic compounds with a general chemical formula of RCOOH. The R is a side group made of carbon, hydrogen, and other atoms, and -COOH is a carboxyl group. They are polar substances and tend to have higher boiling points than water. They are also weak acids and, in general, they have distinct odors.Carboxylic acids have many uses. They play an important part in our nutrition because carboxylic acids are present in various food sources as fatty acids.

Having the healthy type of fatty acids in our diets can improve our overall health. Carboxylic acids are also important in the manufacture of skin care products and medicine. Carboxylic acids are also used as food additives that are responsible for flavoring, as well as for food preservation.

Carboxylic Acids – Definitions, Types & Uses

  • Carboxylic acids: organic compounds with a general chemical formula of RCOOH; R is a side group made of carbon, hydrogen, and other atoms, and -COOH is a carboxyl group
  • Polar : the electrical charge within the compound is not balanced
Carboxylic Types Uses
Palmitoleic acid macadamia oil, butter, avocado
Myristoleic acid shark liver, cow’s milk
Arachidonic acid chicken, chicken eggs, beef
Erucic acid canola oil, kale, mustard oil
Salicylic acid facial cleanser, acne medication, anti-aging cream
Acetylsalicylic acid fever relief, inflammation, aspirin
Citric acid preservative, sour flavoring
Acetic acid vinegar

Learning Outcomes

Subsequent to thoroughly studying the lesson on carboxylic acid, you might take some time to:

  • Recognize the role of carboxylic acid
  • Point out the various structures of these acids
  • Identify the types of carboxylic acids

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