Monday, 16 July 2012


The word "alkali" is derived from Arabic al qalīy (or alkali), meaning the calcined ashes (see calcination), referring to the original source of alkaline substances. A water-extract of burned plant ashes, called potash and composed mostly of potassium carbonate, was mildly basic. After heating this substance with calcium hydroxide (slaked lime), a far more strongly basic substance known as caustic potash (potassium hydroxide) was produced. Caustic potash was traditionally used in conjunction with animal fats to produce soft soaps, one of the caustic processes that rendered soaps from fats in the process of saponification, known since antiquity. Plant potash lent the name to the element potassium, which was first derived from caustic potash, and also gave potassium its chemical symbol K (cf German Kalium), which ultimately derives from alkali.