alcohol origin and history

Alcohol, in chemistry parlance, is any organic compound where hydroxyl functional group attaches to single saturated carbon atom. Alcohol here refers to ethyl alcohol, the predominant component in alcoholic beverages.

alcohol origin and history

Origin & History

‘Alcohol’ is the corrupted form of al-kuhl, Arabic word which refers to khol, a powder which finds use as an eyeliner. ‘Al’ in Arabic is equivalent to ‘the’ in English. Originally, alcohol was used for very fine powder that was developed as a result of sublimation of natural mineral stibnite to form Sb2S3, an antimony trisulfide.

Alcohol found usage as cosmetic, eyeliner and was also used as an antiseptic. Later on, the term was extended to distilled substances as a whole and further narrowing to ethanol that went on to epitomize hard liquor.

Muhammed ibn Zakariya al-Razi (Rhazes or Rasis) was a Persian alchemist, physician, philosopher, and polymath who discovered several chemicals and compounds including alcohol by developing several distillation methods as well as chemical instruments.

While translating John of Vigo in 1543, Batholomew Traheron introduced the word alcohol as a term used by Moorish authors for fine powder. William Johnson, in 1657 Lexicon Chymicum, briefly explained alcohol as “antimonium sive stibium.” Alcohol by extension came to be referred as any fluid obtained by distillation, which also consists of alcohol of wine, a distilled version of wine.

By 18th century, meaning of alcohol got confined to ‘spirit of wine” (ethanol), which by 1850 was started to be describe class of substances known as ‘alcohols’ in modern chemistry parlance. In 1892, the words ethane and ‘ol’ of alcohol was combined to form ethanol.

Nomenclature & Classification

An alcohol, in more informal context, is typically called with names of matching alkyl group followed by term ‘alcohol,’ for e.g., ethyl alcohol and methyl alcohol. Propyl alcohol may be isopropyl alcohol or n-propyl alcohol depending upon where hydroxyl group bonds with the carbon in a straight propane chain.

Based on number of carbon atoms that are attached to carbon atom bearing hydroxyl functional group, alcohol can be classified into primary, secondary, and tertiary.

Simple alcohols like methanol and ethanol have inert rendering and dissolving properties, leading them to be used in medical, pharmaceutical and industrial world as an anti-microbial agent.

Similar to ethanol, butanol can be manufactured by fermentation processes. These types of alcohol are generally produced by saccharomyces yeast at temperatures above 750F (240C). Generally, alcoholic drinks are segregated into three categories – beer, wine, and spirit. They usually have around 3 – 40% alcohol in terms of volume.

The alcohol content in some of the major alcoholic beverages available in the market are: Beer – 2-8%, cider – 1.2-8.5%, wine – 9-16%, distilled drinks (vodka, brandy, rum, gin, whiskey, tequila) – around 40%, and liqueurs – 30-40%.