The Common Uses for Tartaric Acid

By Lexa W. Lee; Updated April 24, 2017
Factories use hydrochloric acid to produce corn syrups.

Tartaric acid is an organic substance that occurs naturally in various plants, fruits and wine. People have used it for many years in different ways. Commercially, the food industry uses it as an additive and flavoring agent, and it is also employed in industries such as ceramics, textile printing, tanning, photography and pharmaceuticals.

History

The chemical name of tartaric acid, which is widely found throughout the plant kingdom, is dihydroxybutanedioic acid. It was first isolated in 1769 by a Swedish chemist named Carl Wilhelm Scheele, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The ancient Greeks and Romans had already observed tartar, a partially purified form of the acid. Wine production produces tartaric acid, as well as colorless, water-soluble salts related to the acid.

Food Additive

As an acidulant, tartaric acid has a taste that is naturally sour and gives foods a sharp, tart flavor. Tartaric acid can also help set gels and preserve foods. It is often added to products like carbonated beverages, fruit jellies, gelatin and effervescent tablets. It is also an ingredient in cream of tartar, found in hard candy and different brands of baking powder to make baked goods rise.

Other Uses

Industrial uses for tartaric acid include within the gold and silver plating process, cleaning and polishing metals, tanning leather and making blue ink for blueprints. Tartaric acid is also an ingredient in Rochelle Salt, which reacts with silver nitrate to create the silvering on mirrors. Rochelle Salt is also a laxative, according to The Chemical Company. Ester derivatives of tartaric acid can dye fabrics.

Commercial Production

By-products obtained from wine manufacturers for the basis for the commercial production of tartaric acid. The sediments and other waste products that result from the fermentation of wine are heated with calcium hydroxide, a base. This causes calcium tartrate to form a precipitate, which is then treated with sulfuric acid to produce a combination of calcium sulfate and tartaric acid. After separation, the tartaric acid is then purified for commercial use.

About the Author

Lexa W. Lee is a New Orleans-based writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has contributed to "Central Nervous System News" and the "Journal of Naturopathic Medicine," as well as several online publications. Lee holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from Reed College, a naturopathic medical degree from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine and served as a postdoctoral researcher in immunology.