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    Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride vs. Fractionated Coconut Oil

    There's a lot of confusion between fractionated coconut oil and capric/caprylic trigyceride. Some sources say they're the same thing, while other sources say they're different. To fully understand wherein the confusion lies, and to find an answer to the mystery, let's take a look at how each of these ingredients are made. 

    Fractionated Coconut Oil

    Fractionated coconut oil is created by melting coconut oil and then letting it cool very slowly. The different kinds of fats in the oil will separate based on their differing melting points. This is a physical separation process, no chemical reactions occur. Sometimes a centrifuge is used to help in the separation. Fractionated coconut oil typically refers to the liquid portion of the coconut oil that has been separated from the harder fats. This liquid is commonly used as a carrier oil for aromatherapy, in cosmetic items as an emolient, and in massage. The solid portion can then be used for further processing to create things like stearic acid, or sold raw to make things like coconut "wax" candles.  

    What Are Fats?

    To fully understand the difference between capric/caprylic triglyceride and fractionated coconut oil, let's first understand a little bit about the chemistry of fats.  

    Oils (triglycerides) are made up of two components: a glycerol group (aka glycerin) and fatty acids. Fatty acids are chains of carbon and hydrogen and can vary in length. (You may have heard of short-chain, medium-chain, and long-chain fatty acids.) Different lengths of fatty acids all have unique names. In a fat, the glycerol group holds three fatty acids together, kind of like a hand with three fingers. (This is where the name *tri*glyceride comes from.) 

    a typical triglyceride molecule

    Capric and caprylic acids are saturated fatty acids naturally present in coconut oil. They are considered to be medium-chain fatty acids. Capric acid (also known as decanoid acid) has a length of 10 carbon atoms. Caprylic acid (also known as octanoic acid) has a length of 8 carbon atoms. 

    Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride

    To make capric/caprylic triglyceride, you first have to separate the capric and caprylic fatty acids from the glycerol group in the raw oil. There are a number of ways to do this. One way is through saponifications--aka soapmaking. A strong alkali is able to break apart the glycerol group from the fatty acids (that's why there's glycerin in a natural soap) and react with the fatty acids to create a new compound we know as soap. Another way to split the glycerol from the fatty acids is through steam hydrolysis. Intense heat and pressure is applied to break apart the triglyceride molecule. This is typically the method used in industrial fatty acid production.

    So, once the caprylic and capric acids (the fingers) are separated from the glycerol (the hand) they then go through another process called esterification, to add the glycerol group back to the fatty acids. Wait, what? We just went through all that effort to remove the glycerol group--now we're putting it back on? What would be the purpose?

    Well, in raw oils, a triglyceride will contain more than one type of fatty acid. (We might have a triglyceride with two chains of stearic acid and one chain of lauric acid. We might have another triglyceride with two chains of capric acid and one chain of oleic acid, and so forth.) So, when we're able to break down the oil and separate the fatty acids from the glycerin, we can then separate and isolate all of the different fatty acids. Then we can put the oil back together with only capric and caprylic acids and then have a "purified" version of the oil that we're now calling capric/caprylic triglyceride. (Also known as glyceryl tricaprylate/tricaprate.) This new purified and standardized oil has different physical properties than the original oil it came from. It feels dryer, less "greasy" and is highly stable because it's all saturated fat, the more unstable fatty acids having been removed. 


    So, is capric/caprylic triglyceride *technically* a fractionated version of coconut oil? Well, yes, when the original material is made from coconut oil. The fatty acids have been separated, fractionated, and then put back together in to an oil. BUT, the term fractionated coconut oil refers to just the raw oil that has been separated through physical means. Capric/caprylic triglyceride refers to this new, standardized, fractionated oil that has been created through chemical reactions. capric/caprylic triglyceride safe? Yes. Just as much as any other oil would be. Is it comedogenic? Well, that depends on your particular skin. Any oil has the potential to be comedogenic because it imparts an occlusive barrier on the skin. So it depends on how your particular skin handles oil. However, the oil doesn't turn solid until it gets down to around 40 degrees F, so it doesn't harden on your skin and clog pores in that way. 

    To make matters even more confusing, capric/caprylic triglyceride is now being marketed as a supplement known as MCT Oil. (Medium Chain Triglyceride Oil.) The health benefits of MCT oil vs extra virgin coconut oil is a discussion for another day. 

    Reader Comments (3)

    great, informative information! thank you.
    I would love to know, if caprylic acid IS better than extra virgin coconut oil for brain just discovered this site and love it! thankyou.

    Mon, March 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercyn

    Even if I do not speak Emglish so well, I understood perfectly: Big compliment and thank you

    Thu, May 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterelisabeth

    Thank you for this.

    I've almost sent myself spare trying to explain these differences and the processes involved to people who should know better (raw material suppliers, but also certain bloggers who consider themselves 'experts' in the science of these matters).

    This is an excellent breakdown (no pun intended) of the differences between CO, FCO and Capric/Caprylic Triglycerides - and I couldn't have worded it better myself.

    Thank you again. I hope those who are in error might stumble across this post and cure themselves of ignorance.

    Sun, September 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGabrielle

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