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Mentioning the words 'fat' or 'oil' often draws a horrified expression on people's faces, especially when talking about food. Years of campaigning for fat free this, that and everything has conditioned our thinking that fat is bad, and that's that. Fortunately, this is a complete misconception. We must learn to differentiate, for one fat is not like another. For a start - animal fats ARE not particularly healthy and should be consumed in great moderation. But since this newsletter is about plants we won't even discuss them here. This article is about common and uncommon vegetable oils that are mostly derived from seeds and nuts.

The human body needs fat. But how much it needs depends on one's level of physical activity. Fats provide energy. That is why plants tend to pack it into seeds - it provides them with the energy to fuel germination - just like mother's milk is rich in fat to boost her baby's growth. But energy means calories - hence the widespread fear of 'getting fat'.

Everything in moderation: an athlete or construction worker needs a lot more easily accessible energy than an office worker. However, both need certain fats to maintain optimum health, and vegetable oils are an excellent source of these 'essential fatty acids'. These fatty acids are called 'essential' because the body is no more able to manufacture them than it can make vitamins or minerals, which is why it is essential to include them in our diet. Essential fatty acids are highly unsaturated fats that have recently made the headlines as the latest 'super nutrients': omega-3, omega-6,omega-9, alpha and gamma linolenic acids. These substances are vital for proper cell nutrition and to fight cancer causing free radicals. They help to lower cholesterol levels and thus improve heart health, keep arteries supple, boost the immune system, fight chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, are vital in the development of the brain and nerve cells, improve chronic inflammatory skin conditions such as acne or psoriasis and provide a host of other benefits.

Oil detox:

Some time ago the Russian medical practitioner, Dr. Fedor Karach, discovered an unlikely method of detoxification. His therapy, which he claims to have learnt from Siberian shamans, is very simple:

Each morning for at least 4 weeks in a row, one spoonful of sunflower oil should be thoroughly 'chewed' and swished and sucked through the teeth and around the mouth for at least 10 minutes. Spit the liquid out (being careful not to swallow any) and brush the teeth as usual. This practice is said to draw and remove all kinds of harmful toxins from the body, including heavy metals.

A similar method is employed in Ayurvedic medicine, though the oil used there is Sesame instead of Sunflower and it is only kept in the mouth for 2 min. Conventional medicine is highly sceptical towards this method, but scores of users swear by it.

But vegetable oils are not only beneficial on the inside - they also provide some of the best nutrients for external skin care. In ancient times it was common to oil or 'anoint' the body - which was done for spiritual as well as cosmetic purposes. Oil keeps the skin supple and smooth, radiating glowing health. Today, most cosmetic lotions and crèmes are predominantly made with mineral oil (petroleum jelly and similar). These offer no therapeutic benefit to the skin at all, but have the advantage of being very stable, thus boasting a very long shelf-life, which in turn increases profit margins. Even most commercially available 'natural cosmetics' contain harmful substances. Thus, if you want the best quality cosmetic products that really nourish the skin, make your own - using natural seed and nut oils. Each oil has specific therapeutic properties suitable for different skin types or conditions that can have remarkable beneficial effects on dryness, itchiness, sunburn or the unkind signs of time drawn around the eyes and such.

Vegetable oils also play an increasingly important role in industry. Remember, oil equals energy. One of the latest innovations is the use of plant oils as bio fuel known as Biodiesel, which can be used to fuel cars. Biodiesel is much cleaner than conventional diesel and cheaper too. Although in theory it would be possible to put vegetable oil straight into your diesel tank and go, there is a small problem, which is particularly bothersome in winter. Vegetable oils tend to be a lot more thick and sticky (viscous) than conventional diesel oil, which means it is harder to draw into the engine and combust properly. It needs to be thinned in some way, either by mixing it with regular gasoline or which somehow defies the point, or by preheating the oils so it becomes more liquid and runny. To make the most effective use of biodiesel it is best if the car is converted professionally, which will replace all the nozzles and punps so it can run safely and smoothly on biodiesel without anything getting congested. ( ).

Of course, as with anything, there are also environmental concerns about biodiesel. In this case it is not so much the pollution that makes the practice questionable, but the fact that good farmland is sacrificed to grow fuel for cars instead of food for people and that in some instances land actually is cleared of old forest to grow this cash crop. This is particularly worrisome in the tropics where it is rainforest that is cut down in favour of oil palm plantations. Rainforest soil, even when replanted with oil palms, is not very productive in the long run, unless the areas that are being cut down are very small and the patch is allowed to regenerate after a year or two of continuous use. Of course oil palm plantations will last much longer than a year or two and the areas that are cleared are much bigger than 'a patch'. This is a real concern. However, it seems to make little difference in the long run, whether that area is cleared for an oil palm plantation, soy farming or cattle raising. Monoculture plantations of any kind destroy habitats and diminish biodiversity. The only thing that will protect that forest is to prohibit all clearing for agricultural use - which is unlikely to happen. What really needs addressing are the policies concerning land use - but that is another story and shall be told another time.

A further consideration, which affects us much closer to home, is the fact that many oil crops grown for fuel production are gene manipulated. Contamination from gene manipulated fields and the loss of biodiversity associated with it are a real worry. The inconvenient truth is simply that we are consuming too much energy, no matter whether it is renewable vegetable oil or fossil fuel and the environment (and ultimately we ourselves) suffers the effects of our insatiable appetite for 'power' in either case.

Vegetable oils also have a number of other industrial uses, some of which are becoming increasingly interesting in view of rising fossil fuel prices. Like mineral oil, some vegetable oils lend themselves well to polymerisation - a process used to create plastics - but in the case of vegetable oils, the plastics thus produced are biodegradable. Considering the vast amounts of plastics we use and their general resistance to decomposing, bio-plastics offer one of the greatest hopes for civilization which may prevent us from suffocating in our own, ever growing plastics junk heaps. (

Vegetable oils:

While most vegetable oils are derived from seeds and nuts; some are also derived from very oily vegetables or fruit. Some are predominantly used for cooking, while others are more suitable as nutritional supplements or as additives for cosmetic preparations. Others are mostly employed for industrial uses. The quality of vegetable oils varies widely. Some oils, including most hat are intended for culinary use, are solvent extracted and highly refined. Best quality cooking oils should be 'cold pressed', such as a good olive oil - which incidentally also has the best nutritional profile. Refined oils and 'butters' usually have a better shelf-life, as most of their unsaturated components are removed in the process of refinement, which renders much less nutritious.

Methods of Extraction:

Refined oil

Pressing oil from seeds and refining it for human consumption is a lengthy process. The raw material (usually seeds or nuts) first have to be cleaned and shelled. Following that they are heated, which makes the extraction process easier. Next, they are pressed through a contraption that resembles a meat mincing machine. The more pressure is applied the hotter the oil gets in the process. Facilitated by the heat all sorts of undesired compounds are also expressed, which make the oil unpalatable. Thus it has to undergo a refining process, to remove those undesirable compounds again.

Some raw materials that are naturally not that rich in oil content must be extracted by a special process involving a solvent, usually hexane, which extracts the oil from the pulp. Hexane is a substance produced during the process of crude oil refining, the solvent that glue sniffers get high on. The hexane needs to be removed again from the oil, which is done by heating the mixture to about 60°C.

After the extraction process the actual refining takes place. 'Refining' simply means purifying the oil by getting rid of unwanted substances and residues- and in the process, extending shelf-life. This is where the real chemistry starts. The oil is subjected to being 'washed' with a watery sodium base liquor (industrial soap), which causes certain compounds to separate or clump together so that they can be filtered out. To cut a long story short, the oil is literally put through the chemical mill in order to cleanse it of all impurities and make it fit for human consumption. The advantage of this process is the yield: despite the enormously complicated chemical procedure the yield is much greater than with cold pressed oils, and the shelf-life is often extended well beyond a year.

Cold Pressed Oils

Cold pressed oils are the highest quality oils available. Nothing is added or removed from them. They are extracted by a simple mechanical pressing operation. This should be done very slowly since pressure and speed produce heat - which destroys the beneficial compounds of the oil. The oil should not be heated above 40°C in the process. Cold pressed oils are expensive because the yield is much lower compared to industrial oil production methods. The shelf life is not as long either, but the nutrient content is usually much higher and the range of flavours much richer - quite incomparable to the highly processed oils, which always taste the same. Good cold pressed oils have a bouquet of flavours in the same way as good coffee or wine does. No two oils are ever the same.

Fatty Acids:

  • Oleic- 64.8%
  • Palmitic- 6.4%
  • Linoleic- 26.1%
  • Linolenic- 0.3%
  • Stearic- 1.4%

Sweet Almond (Prunus dulcis)

A light, gentle oil derived from almond seeds. This oil is nutritionally very beneficial and may be used for culinary purposes (best to use organic). According to research it has an impressive ability to reduce cholesterol levels. However, most Almond oil is bought by the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry and is used for salves, ointments, massage oils, crèmes and lotions. Due to its gentle nature it makes a good baby oil. It soaks into the skin easily, has a perfect viscosity and does not leave a greasy feeling. It is rich in essential fatty acids and keeps well. Its' shelf life is about 12 months.

Sweet Almond Oil, Prunus dulcis

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 64.2%
  • Palmitic- 5.0%
  • Linoleic- 28.3%
  • Linolenic- 0.2%
  • Stearic- 1.0%

Apricot Kernel (Prunus armeniaca)

A light oil, even gentler than Almond oil, derived from the seed of the Apricot. This oil may be expeller pressed or solvent extracted. In either case this oil should not be used internally. It has excellent properties as a cosmetic base oil that may be useful in crèmes and lotions or for facial oils. Apricot oil is chemically similar to Almond oil and also has a similar shelf life. It is not quite as drying as Almond oil.

Apricot oil, Prunus armeniaca

Fatty Acids:

  • Oleic- 48.4%
  • Palmitic- 12.6%
  • Palmitoleic- 0.1%
  • Stearic- 5.4%
  • Gadoleic- 0.3%
  • Arachidic- 0.2%

Argan oil (Argana spinosa)

This edible oil comes from a small desert tree found in Morocco. According to Morrocan traditio, the nuts have to pass through the guts of goats, who forage on the trees, before they can be processed. After this preliminary step the nuts are roasted and crushed. The pulp is then submerged in water and the oil, which floats at the top, is siphoned off - a labour intensive process. The oil has a nutty smell and flavour and is rich in vitamin E, carotenes and phytosterols. Due to its rarity and price it may be more beneficial as a cooking oil than as a cosmetic base oil, although it is certainly beneficial for the skin as well - particularly for aged and damaged skin.

Argan oil, Argana spinosa

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 36-80%
  • Palmitic- 7-32%
  • Linoleic- 6-18%
  • Palmitoleic 2-13%
  • Stearic 0.5-1.5%
  • Alpha Linolenic 0-5%

Avocado (Persea americana)

That well-known delicious vegetable is the downfall of dieters: the pulp is so rich in fat that it readily gives it up by simple expeller extraction. The oil is dark green and thick, almost solid when unrefined, turning brown in sunlight. This oil is highly nutritious and very beneficial for the skin, but due to its unstable nature it should be used quickly. It can be used for therapeutic cosmetic preparations to soothe irritated and inflamed skin or to add to a healing oil for burns and scars. The oil has very good moisturizing properties and helps to regenerate the elasticity of the skin. However, be aware that most commercially available Avocado oil is refined, which means that many of the nutrients have been removed. The fatty acid profile varies greatly depending on the quality of the oil.

Avocado oil, Persea Americana

Fatty Acids

  • Lauric- 50%
  • Myristic- 20%
  • Oleic-12.5%
  • Palmitic- 11%
  • Capric- 7%
  • Caprylic- 4%
  • Linoleic 1.5%
  • Stearic- 3.5%
  • Caproic 0.2%

Babassu (Orbignya oleifera)

This oil derives from stately palm tree, whose nuts resemble small coconuts and originates in the costal regions of Brazil. It is the third most important oil palm species in the world. It is widely used in the Americas for food and medicine. However, the oil is very rich in saturated fats, which does not make it a very good choice for culinary purposes. For cosmetic use it has good moisturizing, emollient and cleansing properties. It lends itself well to sun tan lotions, cleansing crèmes and lip balms. It is siad to be especially good for dry and brittle hair and thus lends itself well for hair care products. Industry utilizes it in the production of soaps and detergents.

Babassu oil, Orbignya oleifera

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 22.6%
  • Palmitic- 11.7%
  • Linoleic- 55.6%
  • Linolenic- 1.0%

Black Cumin Seed (Nigella sativa)

Better known as the cottage garden flower 'Love in the Mist', Black Cumin seeds yield a bitter, spicy oil rich in unsaturated fatty acids. It is promoted as a nutritional supplement not only for its high Linoleic acid content, butter also for its bitter components, which are beneficial for the digestive functions and stimulate the metabolism. Black Cumin Seed oil also has a reputation for its ability to combat conditions of the upper repiratory tract, such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema and will stimulate the immune system. Those who like the taste may want to try it (in small quantities) as an addition to salad dressings, but most will prefer it in capsule form. Due to its strong smell it is not the best oil to use as an ingredient of massage oil blends, though with a little skill, blending it with essential oils and base oils, it may contribute to a detoxifying and invigorating blend. It may also enhance blends intended for inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and eczema. (should not be used internally during pregnancy)

Black Cumin oil, Nigella sativa

Fatty Acids

  • Palmitic- 6%
  • Stearic- 5%
  • Oleic- 11-12%
  • Linoleic 47-48%
  • Gamma Linolenic- 16-17%
  • Alpha Linolenic 12-13%
  • Parinaric 3%
  • Gadoleic 1.1%

Blackcurrent Seed (Ribes nigrum)

This healthy fruit is not only jam packed with vitamin C. It also harbours nutritionally loaded seeds rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids. As a nutritional supplement Blackcurrent Seed oil can boost the immune system and supports the healthy function of the heart. It fights chronic inflammatory processes and has anti-coagulant properties that can help to prevent thrombosis. Many women find that adding oils rich in alpha and gamma Linolenic acids help them regulate symptoms associated with their menstrual cycle. Used as a nutritive addition in cosmetic preparations Blackcurrent seed is praised for its effect on mature skin, helping to revitalize and moisturize dry and wrinkled skin and providing nutrients that can help to restructure the natural elasticity of the skin.

Blackcurrent Seed oil, Ribes nigrum

Fatty Acids

  • Linoleic- 30-40%
  • Gamma Linolenic- 8-25%
  • Oleic- 15-20%
  • Palmitic- 9-12%
  • Stearic- 3-4%
  • Gadoleic- 2-6%

Borage (Borago officinalis)

A common herb of the Boraginaceae family, the delicate blue starry flowers of the Borage plant produce a highly nutritious seed with many valuable properties. Borage Seed oil is rich in GLA (gamma Linoleic acid) and can be bought in capsule form as a nutritional supplement. It is particularly useful for regulating the menstrual cycle or to ease menopausal symptoms. Borage seed oil is used therapeutically to counteract chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, skin conditions and menopausal symptoms, to name but a few. As a nutritional component of cosmetic preparations it has restorative properties especially helpful for sensitive skin and can be incorporated into moisturizing night-time crèmes.

Borage seed oil, Borago officinalis

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 3.0%
  • Palmitic- 1.0%
  • Linoleic- 4.2%
  • Linolenic- 0.3%
  • Ricinoleic- 89.5%

Castor oil (Ricinus communis)

Castor oil is a well familiar oil that has long been in cultivation for medicinal purposes, but never for food. The seeds are toxic and the oil is powerfully purgative and emetic. The thick, viscous oil has found many industrial uses including softening or waterproofing materials, treating leather, as an ingredient of soaps, ointments, crèmes and salves. It is also used in the manufacture of cosmetics such as lipsticks, hair care products and lotions. Sulphonated or hydrogenated Castor oil is known as Turkey Red oil. It acts as a dispersing agent and can be utilized for bath oils.

Castor seed oil, Ricinus communis

Fatty Acids

  • Caprylic- 5-9%
  • Capric- 6-11%
  • Lauric- 42-52%
  • Linoleic- 14%
  • Myristic- 13-20%
  • Oleic- 3-12%
  • Palmitic- 8-14%
  • Stearic- 1-3%

Coconut (Cocos nucifera)

Unrefined Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, but melts as soon as it comes in contact with the warmth of the skin. It consists mostly of saturated oils, which means that it is a very stable oil with a long shelf-life. Although in the tropics it is used for cooking, it is more ideal for cosmetics use. It can be used as a moisturizing body butter or massage 'butter', for hair care treatment, lip balms and for soothing emollient ointments or lotions. Fractionated or light coconut oil are terms which describe highly refined oils that lack many of the nutrients present in solid coconut oil.

Coconut oil, Cocos nucifera

Fatty Acids

  • Myristic - 0.1%
  • Palmitic- 8-13%
  • Palmitoleic- 1%
  • Stearic- 1-4%
  • Oleic- 24-32%
  • Linoleic- 55-62%
  • Alpha Linoleic- 2%
  • Arachidic - 1%

Corn oil (Zea mays)

Although one of the most common and inexpensive cooking oils, unfortunately corn oil is also one of the most 'risky' oils. Corn is one of the most frequently gene-manipulated staple crops. Furthermore, there has been genepool contamination within the germplasm bank for corn in Mexico. Thus one can never be sure whether whatever one buys is gene-mnaipulated or not - though one might as well assume so. Even regular corn oil tends to be highly refined and processed. However, a good quality, unrefined corn oil has a good nutritional profile with a large amount of unsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E.

Corn oil, Zea mays

Fatty Acids

  • Linoleic- 73.3%
  • Gamma Linolenic- 9.0%
  • Oleic- 8.3%
  • Palmitic- 6.2%
  • Stearic- 1.5%

Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

The seeds of the almost otherworldly Evening Primrose, which opens its flowers only at night, yields one of the most precious plant oils. Although edible, it is not really used for culinary purposes, but is most commonly available in the form of capsules as a nutritional supplement. Evening Primrose seeds contains a large amount of GLA, an essential fatty acid that is vitally important for maintaining many physiological processes, such as boosting the immune system, reducing inflammatory symptoms including those of rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus, regulating menstrual and menopausal symptoms and reducing high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. It also acts beneficially on a number of skin diseases such as acne, rosacea or eczema as speeding the healing of ulcers and the nerve damage associated with diabetes. The oil can be used internally as a nutritional supplement or externally as a special addition to cosmetic products, especially those intended for irritated or inflamed skin or as a an anti-wrinkle component of night crèmes and soothing facial oils intended for mature skin.

Evening Primrose oil, Oenothera biennis

Fatty Acids

  • Linoleic- 63.93%
  • Linolenic- 0.77%
  • Oleic- 23.65%
  • Palmitic- 8.09%
  • Stearic- 3.56%

Grapeseed (Vitis vinifera)

Grapeseed oil is a relatively new contender in the arena of vegetable oils, as until fairly recently industry was more interested in the juicy fruit than its seed. When the seeds were pressed for oil it was found that they produce a good yield of fine textured, light oil with a good nutritional profile. It is rich in Linoleic acid, but not outstanding when compared to other oils. It chief merit is its low cost, which has made it popular in the production of inexpensive 'natural' cosmetics, and it is sometimes used as a replacement for mineral oil. Industry uses it for production of soap and as a fine machine oil. Good quality Grapeseed oil is edible and can be used as 'seasoning' oil.

Grapeseed oil, Vitis vinifera

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 77.4%
  • Palmitic- 4.7%
  • Linoleic- 13.9%
  • Stearic- 2.6%

Hazelnut oil (Corylus avellana)

A nutritious and delicious oil with a fine nutty flavour, derived from the fruit of the hazel bush. But beware that not all commercially available hazelnut oils are of edible quality and some may be highly refined. Hazelnut oil has a light texture and a good nutritional profile, being rich in vitamin A,B and E. This oil tends to be rather 'dry' or astringent oil, which means that it is excellent for use in skin care preparations for greasy skin types. It also has emollient properties which leave the skin feelin soft and smooth. In cosmetics it is used for a wide range of products from hand crèmes to lipsticks, cleansing lotions and sun oils.

Hazelnut oil, Corylus avellana

Fatty Acids

  • Alpha Linolenic- 18.87%
  • Gamma Linolenic- 4.01%
  • Oleic- 9.23%
  • Linoleic- 56.03%
  • Palmitic- 5.74%
  • Stearic- 2.48%

Hemp (Cannabis sativa)

Derived from the seeds of that universally useful plant known as hemp, this seed oil does not contain any psychoactive properties. Instead it has one of the best overall nutritional profiles and is extremely rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are so important to our health and well being. Hemp oil is edible and recommended as a nutritional supplement for a wide range of conditions from menstrual problems, to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems, to MS, rheumatoid arthritis and even cancer. It is also beneficial for the metabolism, lowers cholesterol and benefits inflammatory skin conditions. The oil is quite heavy and thick, though it has a wonderfully soft texture and readily absorbs into the skin. It is best used as a nutritional additive to other oil blends for massage oils, lotions or crèmes. In cosmetics it is valued for its regenerative properties and can be used to tone and balance the skin.

Hemp seed oil, Cannabis sativa

Fatty Acids

  • Erucic- 16.3%
  • Gadoleic- 69.3%
  • Oleic- 10.1%
  • Palmitic- 0-2%
  • Behenic- 0-1%

Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis)

Jojoba oil is derived from a small desert shrub that commonly grows in the south-western Untied States. The rich and thick substance pressed from the seeds is actually more of a liquid wax than an oil. It solidifies at just below normal room temperature. It is very nutritious and rich in Vitamin E and proteins. But what makes it special is the fact that it also contains a compound that resembles collagen. Jojoba oil has excellent restructuring qualities and is used in face masks for dry and aging skin which has lost its elasticity. It also benefits chapped and dry skin and can be used on chilblains. The properties of Jojoba oil are similar and even superior to those of sperm whale oil, which it is fast replacing in natural beauty products. Native Americans have used it for its healing properties, in cancer care and in hair care preparations.

Jojoba oil, Simmondsia chinensis

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 20%
  • Palmitic- 6%
  • Stearic- 0.3%
  • Palmitoleic- 0.1%
  • Linoleic- 42%
  • Linolenic- 29%

Kukui Nut (Aleurites moluccana)

The Kukui tree is a native of the pacific region with a claim to fame: it is the official 'state tree' of Hawaii - though it is not well known beyond its range. Nevertheless, its properties are remarkable and should be much more widely promoted. The light, yellow oil is highly moisturizing, yet non-greasy, making it an ideal oil for skin care preparations. It can be used for all skin types but is particularly beneficial for mature and aging skin, chapped and dry skin and skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. The oil is highly valued for its healing and soothing properties on irritated, inflamed or burnt skin. Kukui oil has a way of preventing moisture loss, keeping the skin smooth, supple and elastic.

Kukui nut oil, Aleurites moluccana

Fatty Acids

  • Lauric acid 0.02
  • Myristic acid 0.09
  • Palmitic acid 5.36
  • Stearic acid 2.26
  • Arachidic acid 1.06
  • Behenic acid 0.22
  • Lignoceric acid 0.58
  • Palmitoleic acid 0.04
  • Oleic acid 16.75
  • Gadoleic acid 12.53
  • Erucic acid 1.45
  • Linoleic acid 14.78
  • Alpha-linolenic acid 42.27

Flax/ Linseed (Linum usitatissimum)

Derived from the seeds of Flax, one of the most useful fibre plants, from which linen is produced. The seeds have a remarkable essential fatty acid composition and are rich in omega-3 alpha linolenic fatty acid. The body can, to some degree, convert this substance into EPA and DHA, the long chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, but it appears that this conversion is limited. Besides, some people simply lack the necessary enzyme to do so. Still, Flax seed oil is a very valuable nutritional oil, which can be used in salad dressings or as a supplement in capsule form. It is not very popular in skin care products due to its unstable nature and strong smell. It is also rather thick and sticky. However, industry has long used a refined version of this oil as a paint thinner and sealant for wood, while artists use it for their oil paints.

Flax seed oil/Linseed Oil, Linum usitatissimum

Fatty Acids

  • Lauric- Traces
  • Myristic- 0.4-1.6%
  • Palmitic- 7-10%
  • Stearic- 1.5-5%
  • Oleic- 54-63%
  • Palmitoleic- 16-23%
  • Linoleic- 1-3%
  • Arachidic- 1.5-3%
  • Gadoleic- 1-3%

Macademia (Macademia integrifolia)

The Macadamia tree is native to the Queensland region of Australia, where it is also known as 'Bushnut'. When it was brought to Hawaii, it quickly gained popularity and Hawaii soon became the worlds leading producer. Macadamia nut oil has one of the best overall fatty acid composition profiles. Due to the prevalence of monosaturated fats it is a very stable oil, yet it is also rich in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids and makes a great choice as a culinary oil, as a salad oil or nutritional supplement. For cosmetic use, Macadamia oil contains palmitoleic acid, a compound found also in human sebum. However, as the skin matures the Palmitoleic acid is reduced. Thus Macademia nut oil is an excellent choice for skin care products designed for mature skin. It nourishes, tones and helps to restore elasticity to the skin.It may also be used as massage oil and for aromatherapy skin care products. Macadamia nut oil is easily absorbed by the skin and may be used for all areas including very sensitive parts e.g. around the eyes.

Macadamia nut oil, Macademia integrifolia

Fatty Acids

  • Palmitic- 18%
  • Stearic- 15%
  • Oleic- 50%
  • Linoleic- 13%
  • Arachidic- 2%

Neem (Azadirachta indica)

In Asia this tree is fabled as 'the wonder tree,' and its oil and other parts are used for a wide range of health conditions. It has a very pungent, garlicky smell, which does not make it very popular as a massage or bath oil. However, it has potent anti-microbial properties and offers an excellent healing oil that can be incorporated in salves and lotions for parasitic afflictions (lice), fungal conditions such as athletes foot, or bacterial infections that affect the skin, such as measles. In Ayurvedic medicine this oil is used for all types of 'problem' skin. In India it is highly respected for its anti-parasitic, insect repellent, anti-fungal, anti-septic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Neem oil, Azadirachta indica

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 60-85%
  • Palmitic- 14.4%
  • Linoleic- 9-14%
  • Linolenic- 1%
  • Stearic- 2.43%

Olive (Olea europaea)

Everybody is familiar with olive oil. It is one of the best cooking oils available. Unlike most of the other oils discussed here it is not derived from the seed but from the pulp of the fruit, which is carefully pressed to yield the rich, thick, greenish-yellow oil. Olive oil has long been rumoured as one of the key secrets of the Mediterranean diet which protects people from coronary heart disease despite their rich and plentiful diet. For skin care, most find olive oil a little too thick and heavy, although it provides excellent slippage as a massage oil and when blended with essential oils or used to extract e.g. St. John's Wort, it soon loses its characteristic, strong odour. In Mediterranean countries it is widely used in soap making and other cosmetic products, such as body butters and lotions. It is a very soothing oil for inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema as well as for burnt, dry or chapped skin.

Olive oil,  Olea europaea

Palm Fruit Fatty Acid Profile:

  • Linoleic- 9-11%
  • Linolenic- 0.4%
  • Oleic- 39-41%
  • Palmitic- 43-45%
  • Stearic- 4-5%

Palm Kernel Fatty Acid Profile:

  • Lauric- 40-55%
  • Capric- 3-5%
  • Caprylic- 2-6%
  • Linolenic- 1%
  • Myrisitic- 14-18%
  • Oleic- 12-20%
  • Palmatic- 6-10%

Palm (Elaeis guineensis)

The oil palm yields two distinctly different types of oil, one derived from the pulp of its fruit, which is mostly used in cooking, and another from the actual kernels, which is solid at room temperature and more frequently used for industrial purposes, e.g. in soap and detergent production. Palm oil does not provide a very healthy fat for cooking as it contains mostly saturated fats. It has become the most important source of biodiesel, but unfortunately its production demands a huge price from the environment. Vast tracts of virigin forest are cut down, ecosystems are destroyed and biodiversity is lost in the fragile habitats of the tropics, all to make way for enormous oil palm plantations. Palm oil can be used for cosmetic preparations, but their nutritional profile does not greatly commend them.

Palm oil, Elaeis guineensis

Fatty Acids

  • Palmitic acid 5-8%
  • Oleic- 55-75%
  • Linoleic- 15-35%

Peach (Prunus persica)

Related to almond and apricot, peach kernel oil shares similar qualities as its cousins. It is slightly heavier to the touch, but equally gentle. Due to the limited availibility of this oil in comparison to almond or even apricot oil, it tends to be a pricy choice. It may be used for cosmetic preparations such as facial lotions and rejuvenating crèmes for aged and tired skin, lip balms, bath or massage oils. It is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. This oil is not for internal use.

Peach kernel oil, Prunus persica

Fatty Acids

  • Palmitic- 7.0 - 16.0
  • Stearic- 1.3 - 6.5
  • Oleic- 35.0 - 72.0
  • Linoleic 13.0 - 43.0
  • Linolenic Max. 0.6
  • Arachidic 0.5 - 3.0
  • Gadoleic 0.5 - 2.1
  • Behenic 1.0 - 5.0
  • Erucic Max. 0.5
  • Lignoceric- 0.5 - 3.0

Peanut (Arachis hypogaea)

One of the most commonly employed vegetable oils, peanut oil is cheap, easily available - and often gene manipulated. In terms of world production, peanuts are second only to soy and constitute an important cash crop in developing countries. As a cooking oil it is mostly appreciated for its high smoke point, making it suitably for frying. It is mostly composedof monosaturated fatty acids, which gives it high stability and a long shelf-life. It is rarely used for cosmetics, except as a 'filler' to stretch other, more precious oils. Allergies to peanuts are common and more likely to occur with crude, unrefined oil than with refined varieties.

Peanut oil, Arachis hypogaea

Fatty Acids

  • Myristic- 0.1%
  • Palmitic- 3.5%
  • Stearic-1.5%
  • Arachidic- 0.6%
  • Behenic- 0.3%
  • Palmitoleic 0.2%
  • Oleic- 61-70%
  • Gadoleic- 1.4%
  • Erucic- 0.2%
  • Alpha Linolenic- 11%
  • Linoleic- 21%

Rapeseed/Canola (Brassica napus)

Rapeseed oil is derived from a member of the mustard family and ranks among the most widely grown oil crops. Canola oil is a 'product name' to describe a variety of rapeseed whose oil is low in erucic acid. Canola oil is cheap and easily available as a light cooking oil. Nutritionally, Rapeseed oil has a better ratio of saturated and non-saturated fatty acids than other standard cooking oils, but most Canadian Rapeseed oil (biggest grower) are derived from GM sources. Canola oil is often used for making margarine and soap and also plays an important part as an industrial oil. It is not only used as a machine oil, but is one of the big contenders for use as biodiesel oil. It is also occasionally used in cosmetic preparations and soap making.

Rapeseed / Canola oil, Brassica napus

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 15.9 - 24.7%
  • Linoleic- 56%
  • Palmitic- 12.3%
  • Stearic- 0.1 - 4.8%
  • Linolenic 0.1%

Pumpkin Seed (Curcubita pepo var. styriaca /syn. var. oleifera)

Although pumpkins are originally a new world vegetable, which was completely new to Europe when Columbus brought it back from his travels, the seed oil derives from a cultivated variety that was developed in Styria, Austria:. Curcubita pepo var. styriaca (syn. var. oleifera). This variety contains seeds that are particularly rich in oil. They are briefly roasted before being pressed. The resulting oil is dark green with a distinctive nutty flavour. Pumpkin seed oil is very wholesome, being rich in omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, as well as in vitamin E, A, C and Zinc. Traditionally it has been used as a nutritional booster for conditions of the urinary tract, such as weak bladder and prostate problems. Punpkinseed oil is rich and thick and due to its distinctive 'culinary' scent it is not often used in cosmetics, though it would be beneficial as a nutritive addition to other blends. Exposure to direct light deteriorates its quality.

Pumpkin Seed oil, Curcubita pepa var. styriaca syn. var. oleifera

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 14.22%
  • Palmitic- 3.71%
  • Linoleic- 45%
  • Linolenic- 33.08%

Rosehip Seed (Rosa rubiginosa)

This oil is obtained from a variety of roses native to the Chilean Andes. Due to their high essential fatty acid content (80%), the seeds yield a light, gently astringent oil with excellent nourishing, moisturizing and toning qualities. Rosehip oil is not used for culinary purposes, but is an excellent nutritive oil for cosmetics, particularly for facial blends and lotions intended to nourish the tender tissue around the eyes and to maintain skin tone. Excellent for use in 'after sun care' lotions, and on burnt tissue and scars. Not used internally.

Rosehip Seed oil, Rosa rubiginosa

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 75.33- 80.00%
  • Palmitic- 4-9%
  • Linoleic- 12-16%
  • Linolenic- 1

Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius)

In previous centuries this plant was more valued for the pigment of its flowers, which was used as a natural dye, but today it is mostly grown for the oil content of its seeds. The orange-yellow thistle-like flower heads are also the source of what is known as 'false saffron', a cheap saffron substitute, which unfortunately lacks the flavour or the potent colouring ability of the real thing. Safflower oil is a nutritious cooking oil, though relatively neutral in flavour. Two varieties are grown, which differ in their fatty acid composition, one being higher in monounsaturated fat (oleic acid) the other in polyunsaturated fat (linoleic acid). The variety that is higher in monounsaturated fats is more stable and thus has a longer shelf-life.

Safflower oil, Carthamus tinctorius

Fatty Acids

  • Linoleic- 43.93%
  • Oleic- 39.93%
  • Palmitic- 8.99%
  • Stearic- 3.50%

Sesame (Sesamum indicum)

Originating in Asia and the Middle East, Sesame has a long history as valuable oil plant, popular as a culinary oil, lamp oil and for the preparation of salves and skin care products. Sesame oil is rich in calcium, oleic and linoleic acid and has a long shelf-life. It is very suitable as a cooking oil, lending foods a fine nutty flavour. The light texture and good moisturizing qualities also lend themselves well to skin care preparations, cosmetics, soaps and detergents. Commercially, two types of sesame oil are available: light and dark. The dark variety derives its colour and stronger flavour from the fact that the seeds have been toasted prior to pressing. This type is generally only used for culinary purposes.

Sesame Seed oil, Sesamum indicum

Fatty Acids

  • Myristic- 0.1
  • Palmitic- 10.8
  • Stearic- 4.0
  • Palmitoleic- 0.2
  • Oleic- 23.8
  • Gadoleic 0.2
  • Linoleic 53.3
  • Linolenic- 7.1

Soy oil (Soja hispida)

The humble soy bean, originally a staple crop of Asia, has had an amazing rise to stardom on western supermarket shelves. From being virtually unknown only about 50 years ago it is now difficult to find any processed food that does not contain some derivative of the soy bean and soy bean oil now ranks as the number one vegetable oil. Unfortunately it is also the most ubiquitous GM crop. Despite its widespread popularity there is also a growing lobby that claims soy oil and products to cause significant health concerns. Soybean oil is not only an important food stuff, it also finds use in numerous industrial applications from linoleum, to plastics and vegetable inks. Commercially, it is widely used for soaps and detergents and also finds widespread use in the natural cosmetics industry as it is easily available, cheap and boasts a long shelf-life.

Soy oil, Soja hispida

Fatty Acids

  • Linoleic- 62-70%
  • Oleic- 15-25%
  • Palmitic- 5-8%
  • Stearic- 4-6%
  • Palmitoleic- 0.1-04
  • Linolenic- 0.2- 1.4%
  • Arachidic 0.0-0.3%
  • Gadoleic 0.2-1.0%
  • Behenic 0.5-1.1%

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

The sunny sunflower is another newcomer to the old world. Originally a sacred plant of Native Americans it is now grown all over the world. The seeds yield a fine and nutritionally balanced cooking oil, which is second only to olive oil. Different varieties produce slightly different composition oils. Thus, the commercially available cooking oils are not necessarily the same as oils sold by vendors of cosmetic ingredients. Sunflower oil is relatively light with medium viscosity and has an affinity with human sebum, which is why it makes a good, affordable base oil for skin care preparations, massage and bath oils. It is also a good menstruum for macerating herbs (e.g. to produce calendula or St.Johns wort oil). The fatty acid profile varies considerably depending on the variety in question.

Sunflower seed oil, Helianthus annuus

Fatty Acids

  • Myristic- 0.1%
  • Palmitic- 6-8%
  • Palmitoleic 0.2%
  • Stearic 1.3%
  • Oleic 14-21%
  • Linoleic- 54-65%
  • Linolenic 9-15%

Walnut (Juglans regia)

Walnuts not only provide delicious nutty snacks, but are also very rich in oil content, which is highly valued as a culinary oil for its delicious nutty flavour. And, being rich in unsaturated fats, it is very wholesome too. Walnut oil is often used in fine baking to enhance the aromas, or, plain and simple, as a salad oil. For skin care preparations it should be included only in potions and lotions that will be used rapidly as it will deteriorate soon. But it does make an excellent massage oil and its soothing, softening and rejuvenating emollient properties are a treat for dry and tired skin.

Walnut oil, Juglans regia

Fatty Acids

  • Palmitic- 14-18%
  • Stearic- 0.5-0.6%
  • Oleic- 16-22%
  • Linoleic-54-58%
  • Linolenic 4-7%

Wheatgerm (Triticum sativum)

Wheat germ oil, obtained from the germ part of the wheat grain, is a very nutritious oil, particularly rich in vitamin E. The oil is sometimes used as a nutritional supplement and can be obtained in soft gels. It is praised for its healthful, antioxidant properties. The oil can also be used as a salad oil to enhance the nutritional benefit, though its flavour is not exactly delicate. It is often included in cosmetic skin care preparations, not only for its healing properties - it is highly recommended for preventing stretch marks and scar tissue formation, but also to help stabilize blends. However, wheatgerm oil itself is rich in unsaturated fatty acids, thus straight tocopherol or vitamin E oil would be preferable as a natural preservative.

Wheatgerm oil, Triticum sativum

Saturated FatsIsomerMonounsaturated FatsIsomerPolyunsaturated FatsIsomer
Butyric acid4:0Myristoleic acid14:1Linoleic acid18:2
Caproic acid6:0Palmitoleic acid16:1Linolenic acid18:3
Caprylic acid8:0Oleic acid18:1Alpha-Linolenic acid18:3 n-3 c,c,c
Capric acid10:0Gadoleic acid20:1Gamma-Linolenic acid18:3 n-6 c,c,c
Lauric acid12:0Erucic acid20:1Parinaric acid18:4 undifferentiated
Myristic acid14:0Nervonic acid24:1Arachidonic acid20:4 undifferentiated
Palmitic acid16:0Timnodonic acid20:5 n-3
Margaric acid17:0Brassic acid22:2
Stearic acid18:0Clupanodonic acid22:5 n-3
Arachidic acid20:0
Behenic acid22:0
Lignoceric acid24:0

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