What are vegetable oils made of?

Vegetable oils are fats and are essentially composed of saturated or unsaturated fatty acids with omega 3, omega 6 or omega 9. This composition gives them very useful properties in cosmetics, aromatherapy and food. To understand how an oil acts and especially if it is good or not for us, we must already know what it is composed of. The company of the senses has made a small summary of the main constituents of a vegetable oil.

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Introduction to the biochemical composition of vegetable oils

We call vegetable oil, an oil obtained by cold pressing or extraction, but also an oily macerate that results from the maceration of a plant in a vegetable oil. Being a fatty body, vegetable oil is not miscible in water or alcohol, i.e., it will not dissolve in it. Depending on the temperature at which the oil is liquid, it can be referred to as oil or butter: for example, Argan produces a liquid oil at room temperature, while Shea is found as butter at the same temperature.

Fatty acid composition of vegetable oils

Fatty acids are molecules that represent a source of energy for humans. Most of them are supplied by the diet, but they can also be synthesized by our body. Nevertheless, some cannot be synthesized and must be provided by the diet, these fatty acids are said essential. Together, fatty acids form lipids.

A fatty acid consists of a chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms, with a carboxylic acid function COOH at one end. This forms a more or less long chain depending on the type of fatty acid. Depending on the number of hydrogen atoms found on these carbons, there are several configurations of fatty acids: unsaturated and saturated.

Opposite: carboxylic acid function COOH.

Unsaturated fatty acids

Unsaturated fatty acids are composed of one or more carbon-carbon double bonds (C=C), allowing them to be classified into two categories:

  • The monounsaturated fatty acids, that is, they have a single double bond. For example, we will find the omega 9 such as oleic acid. These monounsaturated fatty acids withstand heat well and are therefore ideal for cooking. Known for their beneficial effects on cholesterol and for reducing the risk of high blood pressure, omega 9s are not essential fatty acids, however, because the human body can produce them naturally, from other unsaturated fatty acids.
  • The polyunsaturated fatty acids, on the other hand, are made up of several carbon-carbon double bonds (C=C). Included in this category are omegas 3 and 6, such as alpha-linolenic acid or linoleic acid, which are essential fatty acids. The difference between these two types of fatty acids results from their molecular structure, with the number 3 or 6 corresponding to the position of the first unsaturation or double bond (C=C). They will both be beneficial to health and are a great source of energy.

Saturated fatty acids

Unlike unsaturated fatty acids, saturated fatty acids have only single carbon bonds, meaning that all carbons are connected to hydrogen atoms. Saturated fatty acids are generally in solid form at room temperature, so an oil composed mainly of saturated fatty acids may have a solid appearance like Coconut or Shea Butter. When dosed properly, in a healthy, balanced diet, saturated fatty acids can be very good sources of energy and vitamins.

Here are some examples of vegetable oils classified according to their fatty acid composition:

Other components of vegetable oils, the unsaponifiables

Although vegetable oils are largely composed of fatty acid, it is important to note that there are other compounds such as unsaponifiable. This is a kind of water-insoluble residue, called non-glyceride part, and is obtained by saponification of oil. Saponification is the process of turning an oil into soap by adding soda. The nature of these unsaponifiables varies depending on the vegetable oil used, the main categories of unsaponifiables are carotenoids (precursors of vitamin A), tocopherols (powerful antioxidants) and sterols (excellent for skin elasticity). Even though they are in very small quantities in vegetable oil, often less than 1%, their actions are nonetheless very effective.

Among these unsaponifiables the category of vitamins is very interesting, we will find for example:

  • The vitamin A which is a powerful antioxidant, preserves the skin and protects the body from infections. When ingested, it can also help facilitate bone growth and promote good vision. Precursors are found in Carrot oil, but also in Jojoba oil.
  • The vitamin B in its generality contributes to the body's energy production. Each subcategory of vitamin B (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B8, B9, and B12) has slightly more specific properties. For example, vitamin B is found in Wheat Germ and Sesame Oil.
  • The vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that contributes to healthy bones. It also helps to speed up wound healing. Vitamin C is found in Mushroom Rose and Avocado oil.
  • The vitamin D is quite well known, since it is the one that is secreted during sun exposure. It is useful for the proper functioning of the immune system and for the good health of bones and teeth. It is found in Sweet Almond and Borage oil.
  • The vitamin E is one of the most antioxidant vitamins. An anti-inflammatory, it is also involved in the proper functioning of the cardiovascular system. It is found in Hazelnut oil and other nuts, but also in Hemp oil.
  • Vitamin K is useful for clotting blood and hardening soft tissue. It is found in Scarf oil but also in Brocoli oil.

All these vitamins can be present in vegetable oils and bring their properties to act in the heart of your body, whether they are used in skin application or ingestion depending on the desired effect.

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