Carbohydrates are chemical compounds that contain oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon atoms. They consist of monosaccharide sugars of varying chain lengths and that have the general chemical formula Cn(H2O)n or are derivatives of such.

Certain carbohydrates are an important storage and transport form of energy in most organisms, including plants and animals. Carbohydrates are classified by their number of sugar units: monosaccharides (such as glucose and fructose), disaccharides (such as sucrose and lactose), oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides (such as starch, glycogen, and cellulose).

Glucose as a straight-chain carbohydrate


Pure carbohydrates contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms, in a 1:2:1 molar ratio, giving the general formula Cn(H2O)n. (This applies only to monosaccharides, see below, although all carbohydrates have the more general formula Cn(H2O)m.) However, many important "carbohydrates" deviate from this, such as deoxyribose and glycerol, although they are not, in the strict sense, carbohydrates. Sometimes compounds containing other elements are also counted as carbohydrates (e.g. chitin, which contains nitrogen).

The simplest carbohydrates are monosaccharides, which are small straight-chain aldehydes and ketones with many hydroxyl groups added, usually one on each carbon except the functional group. Other carbohydrates are composed of monosaccharide units and break down under hydrolysis. These may be classified as disaccharides, oligosaccharides, or polysaccharides, depending on whether they have two, several, or many monosaccharide units.


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