What am I eating? Capric acid, Decanoic acid, Coconut Oil and MCTs

coconut-oil-solidWhen the first organic chemists discovered new compounds, they named them based on the source of the compound. For example, Capric acid, which has a heavy dairy fat aroma and is found in goat milk, was named after caper-; the Latin meaning goat.


Common names were given arbitrarily, not rationally or systematically. Therefore, a systematic way of naming organic chemicals was developed, IUPAC nomenclature. This naming system identifies how the carbon atoms of a given compound are bonded together and what functional groups present in the compound. For example, Capric acid is also called Decanoic acid because it is a 10 carbon chain fatty acid; deca meaning 10.

Flavor Extract Manufacturing Association (FEMA)

In the flavor industry,both common and IUPAC names are used. Part of the requirement for a certified flavor chemist is to know the various names of aroma chemicals.  The flavor chemist must also know where they are found in nature. For business purposes, though, most prefer to identify a chemical by a FEMA number (Flavor Extract Manufacture Association) or a CAS (Chemical Abstracts Services). Numbers are simpler than names and add clarity, but numbers are impersonal and difficult to remember.

Capric Acid

Capric acid is the wonderful fatty flavor of heavy cream; it is one of my favorite compounds to smell and taste. It’s essential for any cream, butter, caramel, toffee, cookies and cream, milk chocolate, coconut, mango, whiskey or cheese flavor. It behaves and looks like a saturated fat; like Crisco®. Unlike Crisco®,though, some people consider it healthy. This is because not only capric acid a flavor compound, it is also a Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT). MCTs are easily digested and can be used by the body for quick energy, like carbohydrates (NYU).  When formulating and calculating nutritional value, MCT’s are known to have 7 Kcal/gram while fat has 9 Kcal/gram.

Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT)

Does MCT sound familiar? If you are following food trends, you might remember something called bulletproof coffee. Bulletproof coffee is a mixture of MCT, butter and coffee. The inventor of bulletproof coffee suggests using coconut oil as MCT. Coconut is high in MCTs at 60% (CSPI), but it is not the specified 100% MCT blend that was proven to have health benefits. Therefore, it is debatable if coconut oil is truly healthy like pure MCT. If you are looking for 100% MCT in the grocery store, try the nutritional isle instead of the oils isle.

Unless the food industry decides to label foods with a number, which most of us would frown upon, we will always have to put thought into every purchase. There are just too many names.






  1. Hi Susie,
    I really enjoyed looking at your blog. I am also a mom retired from the food industry – spent 15 years as a sensory scientist and worked closely with many flavorists. You materials is ‘dead on’ accurate and I really appreciate your science based product reviews.
    Take care!

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