Classification and Characteristics of Fatty Acids

What are Fatty acids?

These are open-chain monobasic carboxylic acids contained in the form of fats, oils, and waxes of plant and animal origin. Fatty acids, as a rule, contain an unbranched chain of an even number of carbon atoms and can be either saturated or unsaturated. In a broader sense, this term is sometimes used to encompass all acyclic aliphatic carboxylic acids, and occasionally carboxylic acids with various cyclic radicals are also encompassed by this term.

Classification of fatty acids

By the nature of the bond of carbon atoms in the chain, fatty acids are classified into saturated and unsaturated. Saturated contain only single bonds between carbon atoms with no double bonds; monounsaturated contain a double or triple bond. Polyunsaturated contain several bonds. As a rule, bonds have a cis configuration, which gives such molecules additional rigidity. In our bodies, fatty acids do affect how the cells in the membrane are arranged. This helps in determining its fluidity hence influencing how our body functions.

Characteristics of fatty acids

Oils and animal fats comprise building blocks called triglycerides. Fatty acids are the main components of triglycerides. Fatty acids are divided according to their molecular structure.

1. Degree of saturation

One of the characteristics of fatty acids is the degree of saturation. There are saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated fats. The degree of saturation of fatty acid is determined by the number of double bonds between carbon atoms in its molecule. If all bonds in the molecule are single, then the fatty acid is classified as saturated. Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) contain one double bond, while polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) contain two or more double bonds.

Another aspect is the number of carbon atoms in the molecular chain of a fatty acid.

2. Distilled fatty acids

These are fatty acids which are obtained by hydrolyzing oils from plant or animal usually at a higher pressure. Distillation is done, thereby producing a white and soapy product. The products are formed at a high temperature of 25ºC to 55ºC.

Distilled fatty acids vary in the number of carbon atoms in the chain, and also, in the case of unsaturated acids, the number of double and triple bonds differs. Acyclic carboxylic acids, starting with butyric acid, are considered fatty. Fatty acids obtained directly from vegetable oils and animal fats. The number of carbon atoms in natural fatty acids is mostly even, because of biosynthesis with the participation of Acetyl-CoA.

A large group of fatty acids (more than 400 different structures) is found in vegetable seed oils. There is a high percentage of rare fatty acids in the seeds of certain plants. Under indispensable means, those fatty acids can not be synthesized in the body.