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Palmitic Acid 101: The powerhouse fatty acid in everyday life

Posted: Apr 01, 2024 6 minute read GAR 1 Likes

Palmitic acid might be the most influential fatty acid you’ve never heard about. Unassumingly crucial, palmitic acid is a versatile giant in the world of saturated fatty acids, equally at home in your daily products and at the heart of industry applications.

Let’s reveal the facts behind this versatile molecule.

What is palmitic acid? How is it made?

Palmitic acid is a saturated long-chain fatty acid with the chemical formula C16H3202. It is one of the most common saturated fatty acids in animals, plants, and microorganisms. Palmitic acid is named after the oil palm tree. It is a major component of palm oil but is also found in meats, cheeses, butter, and other dairy products.

In commercial production, palmitic acid is derived from vegetable oils and animal fats through a process called hydrolysis. In this process, triglycerides are broken down by water into various fatty acids and glycerol. This is followed by fractionation, in which fatty acids are separated by their melting points.

Do you know?

Palmitic acid was discovered in 1840 by Edmond Fremy in saponified palm oil. During World War II, it was used as part of the gelling agents for napalm, with the word “napalm” actually derived from naphthenic acid and palmitic acid.

Exploring the properties of palmitic acid

Palmitic acid’s biochemistry determines how it works in different products. As a 16-carbon chain fatty acid, it is typically solid at room temperature and does not dissolve much in water. Thanks to its structure, it is a critical component in cell membranes and an essential source of metabolic energy.

Read on through this information to learn more about palmitic acid’s physical, chemical, and biological properties.

The Properties of Palmitic Acid

How is palmitic acid used?

Palmitic acid is used in various industries:

Understanding palmitic acid in cow nutrition

Palmitic acid is key in dairy cattle nutrition, especially during lactation. Adding it to a cow’s diet ramps up the milk volume and the fat content of milk, raising both the quantity and commercial value of the milk. This fatty acid also makes cows more efficient at turning their feed into energy. Considering that feed costs can account for as much as 70 percent of total production costs in dairy farming, finding ways to turn feed more effectively into milk can really help a farm’s bottom line.

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Packed with palmitic acid, it boosts milk and milk fat production, makes the neutral fibre in feed easier to digest, increases energy, and even improves fertility and body condition.

Palmitic acid acts in a cow’s rumen (stomach) without disrupting the cow’s normal digestion process. This stability means that the rumen’s bacterial balance stays unchanged and that various feed types are broken down in predictable patterns. Palmitic acid is also easy for cows to digest and is naturally present in cows’ milk and meat, making it a safe addition to their diets.

Palm oil: The premier source of palmitic acid

Palm oil tops the list as one of the richest sources of palmitic acid, more so than other vegetable oils.

Vegetable Oils Percentage of Palmitic Acid Within
(by weight)
Palm oil 44
Palm kernel oil 8-10
Coconut oil 8.5-10
Soybean oil 10
Sunflower oil 5.5
Cottonseed oil 22
Groundnut oil 10

Comparison of palmitic acid percentage in vegetable oils1

At the same time, palm oil’s cost-effectiveness and land-use efficiency make palm-derived palmitic acid a compelling alternative compared to other vegetable oil alternatives. With its high volume, cost-effective pricing and all-year-round production (translating to a stable supply), palm-based palmitic acid is a reliable and attractive option in global markets.

The renewable nature of palm-derived palmitic acid also positions it as a more sustainable choice over conventional petrochemicals. This aligns well with the growing consumer inclination towards eco-friendly products and addresses current environmental concerns. By choosing palm-derived palmitic acid, industries are opting for a more economical and reliable source and contributing to more sustainable practices.

Palm-derived palmitic acid has often been scrutinised for the environmental impact of palm oil cultivation. However, the industry’s commitment to responsible, transparent, and sustainable practices has grown significantly. This has led to a significant decline in deforestation linked to palm oil production in 2022, with the most significant falls occurring in supply chains governed by zero-deforestation commitments.

In addition, more palm growers are pursuing sustainability certification, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which sets comprehensive guidelines for sustainable palm oil production. Hence, selecting palm-derived palmitic acid from sustainable producers is crucial.

Sustainability is at the heart of GAR’s operation

Sustainably-produced palm oil requires ambitious commitments on many fronts. In addition to our conservation efforts, GAR is also committed to ensuring that our palm oil operations are deforestation-free, traceable, and benefit the communities we operate in. Delivering against this commitment is how we build a palm oil industry that is both sustainable and responsible.

GAR’s palmitic acid products: A comparative view

GAR offers a versatile range of palmitic acid products catering to diverse industrial needs. This includes both hydrogenated and un-hydrogenated variants of palmitic acids. Here is a quick comparison:

Hydrogenated Unhydrogenated
Forms Palmitic Acid 80-89% Palmitic Acid 98% Palmitic Acid 80% Palmitic Acid 85% / Palmitic Acid 90% / Vegfat
Ideal Applications Applications or formulations that require a higher melting point and solid consistency at room temperature Applications or formulations that require purity and precise consistency Applications or formulations where nutritional integrity and/or fluidity is essential Applications or formulations that require a balance between functionality and natural composition
Example of Uses Soaps, candles, certain types of packaging materials, animal feed Premium cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food additives, animal feed Food applications (such as flavour enhancers or non-dairy creamers), soaps, lubricants, chemical blending agent, animal feed Personal care products, industrial lubricants, animal feed

Key Differences and Selection Guide

The primary difference between hydrogenated and un-hydrogenated palmitic acid lies in their physical properties. Hydrogenated variants tend to have a higher melting point and altered saturation levels, while un-hydrogenated forms are well-suited to applications where natural composition and nutritional value are prioritised.

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Discover the ideal palm-derived oleochemical fatty acids for your industrial requirements. Click here to explore more and make an informed choice for your needs.

Browse our extensive portfolio of palm-derived fatty acids, fatty alcohols, glycerines, and soap noodles designed to meet each customer’s needs here.

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1 Extracted from:
https://www.fediol.eu/data/fatty%20acids.pdf

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