What is pyrophosphate? (with photos)

Disodium pyrophosphate is used to help preserve canned meats and seafood.

In biochemistry, the term pyrophosphate (PPi) is used to refer to chemical compounds that encompass the esters, salts and anion of pyrophosphoric acid. The latter, being a negatively charged anhydrous phosphate acid, becomes reactive when heated. When suspended in water, however, the pyrophosphoric acid anion also readily triggers the splitting of water molecules into hydrogen and hydroxide ions in a process called pyrophosphorolysis, which produces inorganic phosphate. Specifically, this involves the conversion of cellular adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to adenosine monophosphate (AMP).

Sodium pyrophosphate is a common food additive found in ready-to-eat puddings.

Variations in energy charge in phosphorylation reactions with proteins and other organic molecules produce different forms of pyrophosphate. The end result will always contain one of these ions, however. For example, farnesyl pyrophosphate is obtained by the synthesis of hydrocarbons known as terpenes. Dimethylallyl pyrophosphate is a by-product of mevalonic acid.

Calcium pyrophosphate is an additive in dental floss and toothpaste.

While these compounds are essential for normal cellular functioning in virtually all living organisms, they also play an important role in industrial chemistry. For example, disodium pyrophosphate is used in leather processing to prevent oxidation that can lead to staining from ferrous oxides. It is also used to improve the flowability of cement and oil when added to act as a plasticizer. This substance is also added to fermented baked goods and to canned meats and seafood as a chelating agent to regulate the pH of the preservative solution.

The practice of putting PPi in laundry detergents was discontinued in the 1970s.

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Sodium pyrophosphate has many applications in the food industry as a chelating and thickening agent. In combination with cornstarch, it is the main ingredient in Bakewell Baking Powder, which gained notoriety during World War II when common baking powder became scarce. This powder is still sold today as a gluten-free alternative to baking powder and cream of tartar. It is also a common food additive found in frozen foods, ready-to-eat puddings, and some soy-based products.

Sodium pyrophosphate can be used as a gluten-free alternative to baking powder and cream of tartar in cookies and other baked goods.

This powder is also useful as a dispersing and oxidation preventive agent. In fact, it was once commonly used in laundry detergents to remove and prevent re-deposition of stains. This practice was largely discontinued in the 1970s, however, due to the negative environmental impact of the release of phosphates into waterways. However, it is still used as a stain deterrent in commercial toothpastes, as well as helping to remove tartar and bacterial plaque from teeth.

Calcium pyrophosphate is also an additive to dental floss and toothpaste, although this chemical compound is best known for facilitating an arthritic condition called calcium pyrophosphate deposition disease (CPDD) due to the buildup of dihydrate crystals in the synovial fluid and tissue that surrounds the joints. As a result, inflammation occurs, producing pain and impaired movement. Although the exact mechanism behind this disease is still unclear, it is suspected that it could be related to high levels of ATP.

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