tannin, tannic acid, or gallotannic acid, astringent vegetable product found in a wide variety of plants. Sources include the bark of oak, hemlock, chestnut, and mangrove; the leaves of certain sumacs; and plant galls. Tannin is also present in tea, coffee, and walnuts. A solution of tannic acid is obtained from one of these natural sources by extraction with hot water; in particular, gallotannic acid is obtained from plant gall. Tannin varies somewhat in composition, having the approximate empirical formula C76H52O46. Tannic acid is a colorless to pale yellow solid; it is believed to be a glucoside in which each of the five hydroxyl groups of the glucose molecule is esterified with a molecule of digallic acid. Tannin is used in tanning animal skins to make leather; it transforms certain proteins of animal tissue into compounds that resist decomposition. It is also used in manufacturing inks, as a mordant in dyeing, and in medicine as an astringent and for treatment of burns.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.