Chemistry » Organic Chemistry » Aldehydes, Ketones, Carboxylic Acids, and Esters

Carboxylic Acids and Esters

Carboxylic Acids and Esters

The odor of vinegar is caused by the presence of acetic acid, a carboxylic acid, in the vinegar. The odor of ripe bananas and many other fruits is due to the presence of esters, compounds that can be prepared by the reaction of a carboxylic acid with an alcohol. Because esters do not have hydrogen bonds between molecules, they have lower vapor pressures than the alcohols and carboxylic acids from which they are derived (see the figure below).

There are nine structures represented in this figure. The first is labeled, “raspberry,” and, “iso-butyl formate.” It shows an H atom with a line going up and to the right which then goes down and to the right. It goes up and to the right again and down and to the right and up and to the right. At the first peak is a double bond to an O atom. At the first trough is an O atom. At the second trough, there is a line going straight down. The second is labeled, “apple,” and, “butyl acetate.” There is a line that goes up and to the right, down and to the right, up and to the right, and down and to the right. At the second peak is a double bond to an O atom. At the end, on the right is O C H subscript 3. The third is labeled, “pineapple,” and, “ethyl butyrate.” It is a line that goes up and to the right, down and to the right, up and to the right, down and to the right, up and to the right, and down and to the right. At the second peak is a double bond to an O atom and at the second trough is an O atom. The fourth is labeled, “rum,” and “propyl isobutyrate.” It shows a line that goes down and to the right, up and to the right, down and to the right, up and to the right, down and to the right and up and to the right. The first complete peak has a double bond to an O atom and the second trough has an O atom. The fifth is labeled, “peach,” and “benzyl acetate.” It shows a line that goes up and to the right, down and to the right, up and to the right and down and to the right. This line connects to a hexagon with a circle inside it. The first peak has a double bond to an O atom and the first trough has an O atom. The sixth is labeled, “orange,” and, “octyl acetate.” It shows a line that goes up and to the right and down and to the right and up and to the right and down and to the right and up and to the right and down and to the right and up and to the right and down and to the right and up and to the right and down and to the right. The first peak has a double bond to an O atom and the first complete trough has and an O atom. The seventh is labeled, “wintergreen,” and “methyl salicylate.” It shows a hexagon with a circle inside of it. On the right, is a bond down and to the right to an O H group. On the right is a bond to a line that goes up and to the right and down and two the right and up and to the right. At the first peak is a double bond to an O atom, the next trough shows and O atom and at the end of the line is a C H subscript 3 group. The eighth is labeled, “honey,” and “methyl phenylacetate.” It shows a hexagon with a circle inside of it. It shows it connecting to a line on the right that goes down and to the right then up and to the right and down and to the right and up and to the right. At the first peak that is not part of the hexagon is a double bond to an O atom. At the last trough is an O atom. The ninth is labeled, “strawberry,” and “ethyl methylphenylglycidate.” This shows a hexagon with a circle inside of it. On the right, it connects to a line that goes up and to the right and down and to the right and up and to the right and down and to the right and up and to the right and down and to the right. At the first peak is a line that extends above and below. Below, it connects to an O atom. At the next trough, the line extends down and to the left to the same O atom. At the next peak is a double bond to an O atom and at the next trough is an O atom.

Esters are responsible for the odors associated with various plants and their fruits.

Both carboxylic acids and esters contain a carbonyl group with a second oxygen atom bonded to the carbon atom in the carbonyl group by a single bond. In a carboxylic acid, the second oxygen atom also bonds to a hydrogen atom. In an ester, the second oxygen atom bonds to another carbon atom. The names for carboxylic acids and esters include prefixes that denote the lengths of the carbon chains in the molecules and are derived following nomenclature rules similar to those for inorganic acids and salts (see these examples):

Two structures are shown. The first structure is labeled, “ethanoic acid,” and, “acetic acid.” This structure indicates a C atom to which H atoms are bonded above, below and to the left. To the right of this in red is a bonded group comprised of a C atom to which an O atom is double bonded above. To the right of the red C atom, an O atom is bonded which has an H atom bonded to its right. Both O atoms have two sets of electron dots. The second structure is labeled, “methyl ethanoate,” and, “methyl acetate.” This structure indicates a C atom to which H atoms are bonded above, below and to the left. In red, bonded to the right is a C atom with a double bonded O atom above and a single bonded O atom to the right. To the right of this last O atom in black is another C atom to which H atoms are bonded above, below and to the right. Both O atoms have two pairs of electron dots.

The functional groups for an acid and for an ester are shown in red in these formulas.

The hydrogen atom in the functional group of a carboxylic acid will react with a base to form an ionic salt:

A chemical reaction is shown. On the left, a structure of propionic acid is indicated. This structure includes a 2 carbon hydrocarbon group on the left end in black. Above, below, and to the left, H atoms are bonded. This group is bonded to a red group comprised of a C atom to which an O atom is double bonded above. To the right of the red C atom, an O atom is connected with a single bond. To the right of the O atom, an H atom is bonded. To the right of this structure appears a plus and N a O H. Following the reaction arrow, the propionate ion is shown. This structure is in brackets. Appearing inside the brackets, is a 2 carbon hydrocarbon group on the left end. Above, below, and to the left, H atoms are bonded. To the right of this group, a group in red is attached comprised of a C atom to which an O atom is double bonded above and a second O atom is single bonded to the right. Outside the brackets appears a superscript minus symbol. This is followed by a plus sign, N a superscript plus another plus sign and H subscript 2 O. The singly bonded O atom in the propionate ion structure has 3 pairs of electron dots. All other O atoms have two pairs of electron dots.

Carboxylic acids are weak acids (see the tutorial on acids and bases), meaning they are not 100% ionized in water. Generally only about 1% of the molecules of a carboxylic acid dissolved in water are ionized at any given time. The remaining molecules are undissociated in solution.

We prepare carboxylic acids by the oxidation of aldehydes or alcohols whose –OH functional group is located on the carbon atom at the end of the chain of carbon atoms in the alcohol:

A chemical reaction with two arrows is shown. On the left, an alcohol, indicated with a C atom to which an R group is bonded to the left, H atoms are bonded above and below, and in red, a single bonded O atom with an H atom bonded to the right is shown. Following the first reaction arrow, an aldehyde is shown. This structure is represented with an R group bonded to a red C atom to which an H atom is bonded above and to the right, and an O atom is double bonded below and to the right. Appearing to the right of the second arrow, is a carboxylic acid comprised of an R group bonded to a C atom to which, in red, an O atom is single bonded with an H atom bonded to its right side. A red O is double bonded below and to the right. All O atoms have two pairs of electron dots.

Esters are produced by the reaction of acids with alcohols. For example, the ester ethyl acetate, CH3CO2CH2CH3, is formed when acetic acid reacts with ethanol:

A chemical reaction is shown. On the left, a C H subscript 3 group bonded to a red C atom. The C atom forms a double bond with an O atom which is also in red. The C atom is also bonded to an O atom which is bonded to an H atom, also in red. A plus sign is shown, which is followed by H O C H subscript 2 C H subscript 3. The H O group is in red. Following a reaction arrow, a C H subscript 3 group is shown which is bonded to a red C atom with a double bonded O atom and a single bonded O. To the right of this single bonded O atom, a C H subscript 2 C H subscript 3 group is attached and shown in black. This structure is followed by a plus sign and H subscript 2 O. The O atoms in the first structure on the left and the structure following the reaction arrow have two pairs of electron dots.

The simplest carboxylic acid is formic acid, HCO2H, known since 1670. Its name comes from the Latin word formicus, which means “ant”; it was first isolated by the distillation of red ants. It is partially responsible for the pain and irritation of ant and wasp stings, and is responsible for a characteristic odor of ants that can be sometimes detected in their nests.

Acetic acid, CH3CO2H, constitutes 3–6% vinegar. Cider vinegar is produced by allowing apple juice to ferment without oxygen present. Yeast cells present in the juice carry out the fermentation reactions. The fermentation reactions change the sugar present in the juice to ethanol, then to acetic acid. Pure acetic acid has a penetrating odor and produces painful burns. It is an excellent solvent for many organic and some inorganic compounds, and it is essential in the production of cellulose acetate, a component of many synthetic fibers such as rayon.

The distinctive and attractive odors and flavors of many flowers, perfumes, and ripe fruits are due to the presence of one or more esters (see the figure below). Among the most important of the natural esters are fats (such as lard, tallow, and butter) and oils (such as linseed, cottonseed, and olive oils), which are esters of the trihydroxyl alcohol glycerine, C3H5(OH)3, with large carboxylic acids, such as palmitic acid, CH3(CH2)14CO2H, stearic acid, CH3(CH2)16CO2H, and oleic acid, \({\text{CH}}_{3}({\text{C}{\text{H}}_{2})}_{7}\text{CH}=\text{CH}{({\text{CH}}_{2})}_{7}\text{C}{\text{O}}_{2}\text{H.}\) Oleic acid is an unsaturated acid; it contains a \(\text{C}=\text{C}\)\(\text{C}=\text{C}\) double bond. Palmitic and stearic acids are saturated acids that contain no double or triple bonds.

This is a photo of a bright red strawberry being held in a human hand.

Over 350 different volatile molecules (many members of the ester family) have been identified in strawberries. (credit: Rebecca Siegel)

Fact:

The term “alkanoic acids” also refer to carboxylic acids. Alkanoic acids are alkane-derived organic compounds that contain the carboxylate (-COOH) functional group. Like alkanols, alkanoic acids have a wide degree of variability when it comes to complexity, but some common examples include ethanoic acid, propanoic acid, butanoic acid, and pentanoic acid. Alkanoic acids cause the sour taste in substances such as fruit, vinegar, dairy products and processed meat.

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