After much wondering about the underbridge stalactites that seem to
grow in some dank places, I finally broke one off and tasted it. My
theory had been that they either are (1) guano or (2) dissolved
The guano possibility kind of excited me because it put me in mind of the saltpeter prospectors who, historically were vital in procuring KNO3, the chief ingredient of gunpowder. Saltpeter prospectors were sort of medieval arms dealers, procurers of WmD (weapons of MINOR destruction) :
“In crowded cities, with narrow, dirty streets and lanes, the decomposing organic matter with which the soil is impregnated becomes gradually nitrified, oozes through, and dries on the walls and floor of the cellars, as a whitish crust, easily detectible as saltpetre by the taste.”
--Instructions for the Manufacture of Saltpetre by Joseph LeConte, 1863
First I had to taste the grey stone icicle and then go taste some pure
KNO3 at the lab to see what Mr.-1863-LeConte is talking about.
But the authentic saltpeter I tried just tastes like nothing and the stalactite tastes like nothing too so does that really even mean anything, i.e. do two nothings mean something?
I guess I’m still stuck for a way to ID an NO3 and see if the concrete stalactites are potassium nitrate. Do you think I should grind up a stalactite and try to burn it? I kind of think I’ll heat it at home in the oven at 400 degrees next time my roommate is not home and see if it gasifies.