Organic Acids: Properties, Production & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition and…
  • 1:25 Properties of Organic Acids
  • 4:00 Examples of Organic Acids
  • 4:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

Did you know amino and nucleic acids, two biologically important molecules, are organic acids? Continue reading to learn about organic acids, their properties, and how they are made, and discover the different examples of organic acids.

Definition and Production of Organic Acids

When you think of an acid, what is the first thing that pops into your mind? Is it a substance that gives orange juice its kick or is it a chemical used as a food preservative? Well, by definition an acid is a substance that is corrosive or sour tasting, among other properties that we'll be discussing shortly. In chemistry, acids are known to donate a proton in acid base reactions. There are many different types of acids such as Lewis acids and Bronsted Lowry acids. However, we are focused on one particular kind: organic acids.

Organic acids are organic compounds that possess acidic properties. Given that these acids are organic, a carbon atom must exist in its structure. One of the most common organic acids is carboxylic acid, which has the molecular formula RCOOH. Other common organic acids include sulfonic acid and alcohol. As we'll see shortly, examples of acids range greatly from malonic and folic to stearic acid.

Organic acids can be used to manufacture a variety of products. If we look at our food industry, citric acid is a type of organic acid found in products such as sodas and canned tomatoes. Acetic acid is a very well known organic acid used to make vinegar. They are also used in pharmaceutical production, leather tanning, and the manufacture of other organic chemicals.

Properties of Organic Acids

As we learned, organic acids have acidic properties. For instance, acids have a pH value of less than 7. They're also sour in taste (i.e., lemons), and they can turn blue litmus paper red. Chemically, acids are known to be two different types: strong or weak. A strong acid is one that fully or nearly fully dissociates, or separates into its smaller particles, in solution. Weak acids sit on the other side of the spectrum. They do not fully dissociate in solution.

Organic acids are commonly weak acids. Thus, they do not give up their protons (H+) easily in solution. But how does that qualify them as weak? Organic acids are weak because they partially ionize in solution. In other words, they ionize when the bond between an oxygen and hydrogen atom breaks, releasing the hydrogen atom as H+ and forming a negatively charged acidic ion A-. Ionization is the process of converting a substance into an ion by the removal of electrons, such as in the case of the ethanoic acid pictured on screen right now.

When present in a water solution, un-ionized ethanoic acid (A in the diagram) will try its best to hold on to its hydrogen atom. That is, ethanoic acid's desire to hand its hydrogen atom over to water, in order to form a hydronium ion (H+), is not very strong. Now all of this discussion on weak acids begs the question, 'Are there any organic acids that are stronger than others?'Most certainly!

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