Efflorescences that are emitted from nitrogenous matter oxidation in the presence of alkaline earth and alkali produce Saltpeter. Saltpeter or Saltpetre is the commonly known Niter, a derivative of nitrate, found in three main types – Ordinary saltpeter, Chile Saltpetre, and lime saltpeter – about which we’ll talk further in the article.
What is salt peter?
Saltpeter is prevalent in three main types, namely:
- Ordinary Saltpeter, or potassium nitrate with chemical formula KNO3.
- Chile saltpeter aka cubic niter, or sodium nitrate with chemical formula NaNO3.
- Lime saltpeter, aka wall saltpeter, or calcium nitrate with chemical formula – Ca(NO3)2
The first, i.e., potassium nitrate forms naturally on Earth’s surface, walls, rocks, and caves. They are extracted as crusts and are also sometimes found in special soils of countries like India, Iran, Italy, Spain, and Egypt. Usually, KNO3 is white in color and are water soluble substance with a salty flavor and a vitreous luster.
Other than occurring naturally, saltpeter plantations stood out as a common model to meet the high demand of the compound. And this demand was in correspondence to its use as an effective gunpowder ingredient. Following the demand and use, plantation firms were introduced in special regions of countries like France and Germany. A full-proof natural environment suitable for saltpeter was mimicked using heaps of decaying organic matter that was mixed with alkalis like lime. This mixture was then exposed to the atmosphere to form the compound.
The second, Chile saltpeter is quite the same as ordinary Saltpeter but was discovered in South America mostly. This particular type is especially helpful in the agriculture sector as fertilizer and in the nitric acid industry.
The third one is Lime saltpeter, which used to be a commonly found efflorescence occurring naturally. But now, they are mostly factory-made, created using atmospheric nitrogen. Its use is evident in the nitric acid industry, as well as, the agriculture sector as effective manure.
Saltpeter fun facts
- Saltpeter has multiple names, with potassium nitrate as the most common one. However, it is a lesser-known fact that saltpeter is a naturally occurring mineral, and potassium nitrate is the purified product.
- There are plenty of saltpeter uses, including its role as a fertilizer, gunpowder ingredient, food preservative, tree stump remover, and rocket propellant among others.
- Back when research done on the compound was minimal, it was a common treatment against diseases like asthma. Currently, its only medicinal purpose is to be administered as a diuretic.
- People believe that Saltpeter suppresses the urge to have sex, but there are no studies done to back up yeh rumor.
Sources of Saltpeter
If you wonder what is salt peter’s purest form, it is the crystalline solid and white in color. It may also be commonly found in the form of a powder. However, the compound is manufactured largely nowadays making people less dependent on natural extraction.
In factories, the workers use a specific chemical reaction of potassium salts and nitric acid. Meanwhile, the best method of creating a lab version of potassium nitrate is by mixing potassium chloride and ammonium nitrate in water. Another way to extract potassium nitrate is by isolating guano from bat guano. The process starts by soaking the natural source in water, filtering it, and then harvesting the grown crystals which are extremely pure.
A lot of industry takes help from potassium nitrate to fulfill their needs. There are innumerable saltpeter uses currently, with a few ones given below:
- In the food industry, it acts as a food preservative, fertilizer, additive, etc.
- It is commonly added to red meat to make it appear more red. Such a phenomenon is possible because of to the reaction between blood’s hemoglobin and myoglobin due to the presence of potassium nitrate.
- Acts an important gunpowder ingredient and oxidizer for fireworks, like rockets.
- Has a medicinal purpose and is a topical medicine for sensitivity in teeth.
- Back then, the compound was a working remedy for high blood pressure.
What does saltpeter do to a man? – Male Libido
A much-believed fact about Saltpeter is that the compound suppresses the male libido, or decreases the sexual urge in men. However, it is a total myth and potassium nitrate does nothing of that sort.
It was initially declared that saltpeter is added to food made for prisoners and military personnel, as a remedy against sexual fantasies. Nevertheless, there isn’t any valid research done to back up the same. In addition to the false news, saltpeter is among those nitrates that have a medicinal history, despite which, using it in high doses can result in toxicity and produce symptoms. Symptoms range from mild ones like headache and stomachache to more threatening ones like kidney damage and altered blood pressure.
History of Saltpeter
Saltpeter uses in making specialties come true is not a fresh concept, but the traditions come from thousands of years ago. The first ever mention of it (to be recorded) is in an Indian Sanskrit text, that dates back to 300 BC and is suggested to have occured between 300 BC and 300 AD. In the ancient text, the use of Saltpeter’s toxic smoke in warfare is noted.
The next significant mention was in 1270, by Hasan Al-Rammah, a Syrian chemist who wrote about the purification process of purified potassium nitrate from saltpeter. Industrialization took place and a legit method to manufacture potassium nitrate was the Birkeland-Eyde process. However, the Birkeland-Eyde process was soon replaced by the Haber process and Ostwald. But the popularity wasn’t limited to Industries as its toll reached the chef’s.
Well, it was about five centuries ago when a group of qualified chefs noticed the effectiveness of salt in preserving meat. In addition to that, the flavor was found to be enhanced. It wasn’t any ordinary salt doing the trick, but turns out – it was Saltpeter.
The compound soon became the key to preservation, as well as increased flavor. The only awful thing was the fact that not all bacteria were destructible by potassium nitrate. This is why the need to use sodium nitrite directly for preservation purposes was seen.
How was Saltpeter found to be harmful?
The question of importance – what does saltpeter do to a man and his health – was not a concern to anybody, until the 1960s. A few researchers noticed domestic animals who consumed nitrite-containing fish and other food, died early and usually, due to liver damage. It was later found that nitrosamines were the core problem. The attention to its dangers was picked late, but better late than never.
Nitrosamines are a potential threat and can initiate cancer. They are known to form when foods are treated with nitrite. A lot of common foods were found contaminated with this compound, including fried bacon, hot dogs, and beer. Nitrosamines, in meat, formed when amines from proteins (released during cooking) reacted with nitrite.
The need to inhibit the formation of nitrosamine was at an all-time high. After a lot of thorough study, it was found that using Ascorbic acid or vitamin C can curb nitric oxide from reacting with amine. Additionally, adding the new replacement also endorsed the taste so it was a win-win situation. Currently, the use of nitrite is insignificant, which in turn makes nitrosamine exit from major foods.
Life without Saltpeter will never be fulfilling as this chemical compound has now become a lifeline for mega projects. Its uses have now expanded to a level where returning by leaving it out sounds impossible. This inorganic chemical was naturally found but as the number of demands skyrocketed, plantation and manufacturers had to finally step in. From agriculture to food to medical use – the significance is very evident.
A- The use of Saltpeter at home is usually to enhance animal products like meat, fish, and cheese. The use of nitrates in the kitchen has been there for centuries now. In red meat, they are used to enhance the color, while it prevents blowing by gas-forming bacteria in hard cheeses.
A- Saltpeter can develop ranging symptoms if used more than the normal dose. A few of its dangers include asthma, chronic bronchitis, rhinitis, and respiratory allergies.
A- Saltpeter is another name for Potassium nitrate, a chemical compound that has a range of side effects. Anyone who is dealing with sensitive skin issues should especially stay alarmed as skin and eye irritation may arise.
A- Before 1999, adding Saltpeter to elevate the red meat and cure smoker meats was a common thing to do. However, this benchmark was suddenly discontinued when the FDA stated the dangers in 1999.
A- Curing salt is used to extract moisture from meat, a similar task that Saltpeter can easily accomplish. Both also have exceptionally identical preservative benefits, although two of them are not the same component.