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Potassium carbonate is the primary component of potash and the more refined pearl ash or salts of tartar. Historically, pearl ash was created by baking potash in a kiln to remove impurities. The fine, white powder remaining was the pearl ash. The first patent issued by the US Patent Office was awarded to Samuel Hopkins in 1790 for an improved method of making potash and pearl ash.
From the solution crystallizes the sesquihydrate K2CO3·H2O ("potash hydrate"). Heating this solid above 200 °C gives the anhydrous salt. In an alternative method, potassium chloride is treated with carbon dioxide in the presence of an organic amine to give potassium bicarbonate, which is then calcined:
as a mild drying agent where other drying agents, such as calcium chloride and magnesium sulfate, may be incompatible. It is not suitable for acidic compounds, but can be useful for drying an organic phase if one has a small amount of acidic impurity. It may also be used to dry some ketones, alcohols, and amines prior to distillation.
in cuisine, where it has many traditional uses. It is an ingredient in the production of grass jelly, a food consumed in Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisines, as well as Chinese hand-pulled noodles and moon cake. It is also used to tenderize tripe. German gingerbread recipes often use potassium carbonate as a baking agent, although in combination with hartshorn. Use of potassium carbonate must be limited to a certain amount to prevent harm, and should not be used without guidance.
in the alkalization of cocoa powder to produce Dutch process chocolate by balancing the pH (i.e., reduce the acidity) of natural cocoa beans; it also enhances aroma. The process of adding potassium carbonate to cocoa powder is usually called "Dutching" (and the products referred to as Dutch-processed cocoa powder), as the process was first developed in 1828 by Dutchman Coenraad Johannes van Houten.