Word of the Day: Organic

“Organic” is a commonly misunderstood word. In agriculture, it refers to a method of farming that minimizes the use of certain kinds of herbicides and pesticides. However, in chemistry, it means something completely different and can lead to some confusion. The field of “organic chemistry” has nothing to do with farming at all. It simply means the study of organic compounds. And what is an organic compound? It is simply a molecule that contains carbon atoms. There are some exceptions to this rule, including small, simple salt molecules like carbonates (baking soda is one of these), oxides (rust is among them), and carbides (such as iron carbide in steel.) Those are not organic compounds, despite the fact that they contain carbon.

Examples of organic molecules are those that make up life. Lipids like oil and butter, carbohydrates like starch and sugar, and proteins are all considered organic molecules. So technically, all vegetables are “organic”  in the chemistry sense of the word, because they contain carbon based molecules — even though they may not be “organic” in the farming sense. Crazy!