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A tannin (a.k.a. vegetable tannin, i.e. a type of biomolecule , as opposed to modern synthetic tannin) is an astringent , bitter plant polyphenolic compound that binds to and precipitates proteins and various other organic compounds including amino acids and alkaloids .
The term tannin (from tanna , an Old High German word for oak or fir tree, as in Tannenbaum ) refers to the use of wood tannins from oak in tanning animal hides into leather ; hence the words "tan" and "tanning" for the treatment of leather. However, the term "tannin" by extension is widely applied to any large polyphenolic compound containing sufficient hydroxyls and other suitable groups (such as carboxyls ) to form strong complexes with proteins and other macromolecules .
The tannin compounds are widely distributed in many species of plants, where they play a role in protection from predation, and perhaps also as pesticides, and in plant growth regulation. The astringency from the tannins is what causes the dry and puckery feeling in the mouth following the consumption of unripened fruit or red wine. Likewise, the destruction or modification of tannins with time plays an important role in the ripening of fruit and the aging of wine .
Tannins have molecular weights ranging from 500 to over 3,000 (gallic acid esters ) and up to 20,000 (proanthocyanidins). Tannins are incompatible with alkalis , gelatin , heavy metals, iron , lime water , metallic salts, strong oxidising agents and zinc sulphate , since they form complexes and precipitate in aqueous solution.
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