Argon

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Argon is a chemical element with symbol Ar and atomic number 18. It is in group 18 of the periodic table and is a noble gas. Argon is the third most common gas in the Earth's atmosphere.

Production and characteristics

Argon is produced industrially by the fractional distillation of liquid air.

Argon has approximately the same solubility in water as oxygen, and is 2.5 times more soluble in water than nitrogen. Argon is colourless, odourless, nonflammable and nontoxic as a solid, liquid, and gas. Argon is chemically inert under most conditions and forms no confirmed stable compounds at room temperature.

Preservative

Argon is used to displace oxygen- and moisture-containing air in packaging material to extend the shelf-lives of the contents (argon has the European food additive code of E938). Aerial oxidation, hydrolysis, and other chemical reactions which degrade the products are retarded or prevented entirely. Bottles of high-purity chemicals and certain pharmaceutical products are available in sealed bottles or ampoules packed in argon. In winemaking, argon is used to top-off barrels to avoid the aerial oxidation of ethanol to acetic acid during the ageing process.

Argon is also available in aerosol-type cans, which may be used to preserve compounds such as varnish, polyurethane, paint, etc. for storage after opening. Since 2002, the American National Archives stores important national documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution within argon-filled cases to retard their degradation. Using argon reduces gas leakage, compared with the helium used in the preceding five decades.

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