Propionic acid was first described back in the 1800’s by Johann Gottlieb, who found it among the degradation products of sugar. Over the next few years, other chemists produced propionic acid in different ways, but not realizing they were producing the same substance.
Propionic acid has physical properties intermediate between those of the smaller carboxylic acids, formic and acetic acids, and the larger fatty acids. It is capable of being mixed with water, but can be removed from water by adding salt.
Propionic acid inhibits the growth of mold and some bacteria. Therefore, these days most propionic acid produced is consumed as a preservative for both animal feed and food for human consumption. Another major application is as a preservative in baked goods, which use the sodium and calcium salts. The esters of propionic acid have fruit-like odors and are sometimes used as solvents or artificial flavorings.
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