Some people drink pearl
So….today I’ve learned something new, in the chemistry department. Do you know the story of Cleopatra and her pearl? I didn’t, until today. In short: Apparently, Cleopatra gave a banquet for Antony. It was a banquet of ridiculous proportions to impress him. Antony was astonished by how much money Cleopatra was throwing around. To impress him even more with how much money she had to throw around, Cleopatra took one of her pearl earrings (a very, very valuable pearl) and dissolved it in her drink, and then she drank the concoction.
Whaaaat? What exactly was her DRINK that it could dissolve a pearl? And how come she didn’t die after drinking it? Well, here are the answers.
Pearls, which are mostly calcium carbonate, can dissolve in mild acid. Like wine vinegar, which is 5-7% acetic acid. So that’s what Cleopatra’s drink was. So when she drops the pearl in the vinegar, the calcium carbonate is converted by acetic acid into calcium acetate, which dissolves in the residual water, and carbonate, which fizzes as bubbles of carbon dioxide. Basically, the acid in the vinegar is neutralized by the pearl and what results is more like an anti-acid. Isn’t chemistry interesting? It’s like magic, if you don’t understand it.
And that’s the new thing I’ve learned today.