Potassium bicarbonate (KHCO3), a common additive found in food and drink, remains a solid at room temperature. This substance resembles small crystals, similar to those of table salt or sugar. Antacid and beverage manufacturers employ potassium bicarbonate for its slightly basic pH and stomach-settling characteristics. Chemists develop molecules of KHCO3 by reacting water, carbon dioxide and potassium carbonate. Creation in a lab proves more cost effective than mining the substance in its natural state, as a mineral known as kalicinite.
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Potassium bicarbonate functions as an antacid in many over-the-counter tablets. Its pH of 8.2 provides a basic--pH greater then 7.0--supplement but doesn't upset the stomach the way a stronger base would. Often paired with baking soda, the two work together as the active ingredient in almost every mass-marketed antacid. Baking soda shares many characteristics with potassium bicarbonate and is known as sodium bicarbonate.
KHCO3 provides an integral part of baking tasty dishes. If exposed to certain conditions, potassium bicarbonate can release the gas CO2, often in the form of bubbles. When used as an ingredient in dough or batter, these bubbles cause the food to rise, due to the bubbles being created within. This rising action creates a lightweight, fluffy texture. Without the addition of potassium bicarbonate, bread and cakes would be flat and very dense.
Dry chemical fire extinguishers use several chemicals to extinguish fires. Potassium bicarbonate performs quite well in this application by coating the fuel of the fire and smothering it by limiting its source of oxygen. The most common types of fire extinguishers use sodium bicarbonate and potassium bicarbonate because of their excellent performance and safety for use near people and pets.
As a drink additive, potassium bicarbonate aids in calming stomach upset or pain by introducing a slightly basic substance to combat overactive stomach acids. Its pH of 8.2 allows it to gently correct imbalances rather than causing dramatic acidity swings that can lead to medical complications. Bottled water companies also add potassium bicarbonate as a source of potassium and to provide a pleasant taste.
The U.S. Organic Material Research Institute states that the substance is approved for use by organic farmers for plant disease prevention. It is notably effective against powdery mildew, a common problem affecting a wide range of plants. Different plants have varied responses to the disease, but begonias and African violets seem to be most susceptible. Infections in these plants often result in death.
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