Ethyl formate

January 08, 2018
I’m tasty, perilous, and astronomical.
What molecule am I?

Ethyl formate is a simple aliphatic ester that is full of benefits and concerns. It’s a clear, slightly oily liquid with a pleasant, rumlike odor and the flavor of raspberries.

The ester occurs in many food substances, including fruits, coffee, tea, and grains. The synthetic product is often used as a flavoring agent in lemonade and artificial alcoholic beverages. It is used industrially as a solvent and as a fungicide and larvicide in processed foods such as dried fruits and cereals.

In its pure form, ethyl formate has several dangerous properties, as shown in the hazard information box (a new Molecule of the Week feature in 2018—Ed.).

In 2009, researchers at Cornell University and the University of Cologne detected ethyl formate in outer space—specifically, in the Sagittarius B2 dust cloud at the center of the Milky Way. Four years later, scientists in Spain and France confirmed its existence, this time in the Orion constellation. Discoveries of this and many other organic molecules in space give some researchers hope that extraterrestrial life can exist.

Ethyl formate fast facts

CAS Reg. No. 109-94-4
Molar mass 74.08 g/mol 
Formula C3H6O2
Appearance Colorless liquid 
Boiling point 54 ºC
Water solubility 88 g/L

Ethyl formate hazard information

GHS* classification: flammable liquids, category 2
H225—Highly flammable liquid and vapor Chemical Safety Flammable Warning
GHS classification: acute toxicity, oral and inhalation, category 4
H302/H332—Harmful if swallowed or if inhaled Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: eye irritation, category 2A
H319—Causes serious eye irritation Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: specific target organ toxicity—single exposure, category 3, respiratory system
H335—May cause respiratory irritation Chemical Safety Warning

*Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. Explanation of pictograms.

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