Factbox: Key facts about cork and its use

Mon Feb 1, 2010 11:41am EST
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(Reuters) - Following are some key facts about cork and its main applications, from bottle stoppers to aerospace industry.

* Cork is made from the bark of the cork oak (Quercus suber) -- the predominant tree species in Portugal. Portugal accounts for just over half of the world's cork output, producing 157,000 tonnes annually. There are also plantations in France, Spain, Italy, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.

* Over 100,000 people depend on cork growing and processing in these countries.

* The bark is harvested for the first time when the tree is 25 years old. Then it is removed every 9-12 years without ever damaging the tree, which lives around 200 years. Cork obtains the qualities needed for the production of wine bottle stoppers -- its main application -- only after the third harvesting.

* The tree's acorns are used to feed pigs that make some of the best cured ham Spain and Portugal are famous for.

* Thanks to the cork's cell-like structure, the material is elastic, resilient and highly impermeable.

* The ancient Greeks and Romans used cork in combination with natural resins to stopper wine and oil amphorae. Now, some 70 percent of all cork produced is used to make wine bottle stoppers. Portugal alone makes 40 million stoppers per day.

* Cork stoppers sometimes taint wine with trichloroanisole (TCA), which gives the wine the undesirable "wet dog" odor. Various studies put the share of TCA-tainted wine at 1 to 7 percent. Major cork producers have developed methods to remove most of TCA from corks as they try to fend off the advance of alternative closures like metal screwcaps.


<p>Cork stoppers for champagne are seen at the Vinitaly wine expo in Verona April 3, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo</p>