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Fatty acid

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noun, plural: fatty acids

Any of the group of a long chain of hydrocarbon with a carboxylic acid at the beginning and a methyl end, and derived from the breakdown of fats (through hydrolysis)


A fatty acid is a subunit of fats, oils, and waxes. It pertains to any long chain of hydrocarbon, with a single carboxylic group and aliphatic tail. It is produced by the breakdown of fats (usually triglycerides or phospholipids) through a process called hydrolysis.

A fatty acid may be represented by R-COOH, where R stands for the aliphatic moiety and COOH as the carboxylic group (making the molecule an acid).

Fatty acids can be classified into two major groups depending on the nature of covalent bond: (1) unsaturated fatty acid and (2) saturated fatty acid. Unsaturated fatty acids those containing one or more double bonds and therefore can absorb additional hydrogen atoms. They may be further categorized into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Examples of unsaturated fats are monounsaturated fatty acid, polyunsaturated fat, omega fatty acids, etc. Saturated fatty acids are fatty acids that lack unsaturated linkages between carbon atoms. Examples include lauric acid, palmitic acid, etc.

Another way of classifying fatty acids is based on the length of the chain. A fatty acid with aliphatic tail of five or fewer carbons is called a short-chain fatty acid. Medium-chain fatty acid is one that has an aliphatic tail of 6 to 12 carbons. A long-chain fatty acid is one that has an aliphatic tail of 13 to 21 carbons. A fatty acid with an aliphatic tail of 22 or more carbons is called very long chain fatty acid.

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