We often associate sulfur with the terrible smell of rotten eggs, but it’s also an essential element for our bodies as well as an important component of sulfate and sulfide minerals. In it’s pure form, it’s a yellow crystalline solid that is not common in nature. However, it does occur naturally around the edges of volcanic vents and fumaroles where the steady stream of hot gases leavesulfur deposits. But sulfur is extremely versatile and can combine with nearly all other elements. Because of this, it makes up an essential part of over 1,000 minerals. We call these sulfide, sulfarsenide, sulfosalt and sulfate minerals.

Sulfur in daily life

Sulfur’s bright yellow colour and distinct physical properties made it a recognized mineral even in ancient societies. Sulfur is highly flammable and when burned, produces a flame that can be hard to see in daylight, but darkness reveals a subtle blue light. It’s what some ancient peoples called “brimstone”. And as far back as the 7th century, the Chinese were using sulfur to make gunpowder to launch rockets and shoot projectiles.

Today, the majority of sulfur is used to produce sulfuric acid for fertilizers that help grow the fruit and vegetables we need for proper nutrition. Sulfur itself contributes to our overall health when consumed. It’s also still used in gunpowder, matches and fireworks. That smell when you light a match is caused by sulfur. Other uses of sulfur include pharmaceuticals, soaps, textiles, papers, processed rubber, leather, paint, dyes and food preservatives.