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What is Capric Acid?

By Laura Phillips
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Capric acid, a 10-carbon fatty acid, is one of a series of similar fatty acids found naturally in minor amounts in animal fats and milk and in certain plant oils, including palm and coconut oils. In its refined form, it can be either white crystals or a transparent, colorless or pale-yellow liquid. Both forms have an unpleasant odor. Also called decanoic acid, it is used as an antimicrobial pesticide in commercial food handling. It also is used in the manufacture of cellulose products, dye, flavoring, lubricating grease, medicine, perfumes, specialty soaps, and synthetic rubber.

The chemical formula for capric acid is written as CH3(CH2)8COOH, and sometimes as C10H20O2. It is one of three similar acids whose names are derived from the Latin word caper, meaning goat. Caproic (C6), caprylic (C8), and capric (C10) acids are present in significantly higher proportions in goat milk than in cow milk and are responsible for the characteristic goat-like smell that goat milk can develop.

Capric acid is considered by many natural food proponents to be an important contributor to good health, and for that reason, they recommend consumption of foods containing this fatty acid, such as goat milk and coconut oil. Some proponents also suggest this acid may help balance insulin levels in humans and that it helps counter insulin resistance. While capric acid is often described in medical literature as part of the delivery system that helps diabetics absorb prescribed amounts of insulin, it does not necessarily follow that adding foods rich in this substance have a direct impact on insulin levels. It is always advisable to consult a qualified health professional before making specific dietary changes that could have a major impact on health.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies capric acid as generally recognized as safe (GRAS). A toxicity profile in EPA documents indicates no significant risks of systemic toxicity for humans, even at high dosage levels. As this substance is found extensively in nature and there have been no indications of adverse impacts on the environment, the EPA has required no environmental studies.

Certain safety precautions, however, are warranted for handling capric acid in its refined form. Prolonged exposure can cause severe skin irritation, and it also is an eye irritant. Heating causes some vaporization, and inhalation of vapors or mist can cause pulmonary irritation. Symptoms include coughing or difficulty breathing. It has a melting point of 88° F (about 31° C) and a flash point of 235° F (about 112° C).

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Discussion Comments
By bythewell — On Oct 17, 2011

I've heard that coconut oil is pretty good for you. I don't think that it's been widely tested though, so I'm a bit skeptical about it.

I've seen people advocate using it in everything, but it is basically a saturated fat. It's semi-solid at room temperature. It might have some good components, like capric acid, but if you eat loads of the stuff you might be affecting your heart as well as your blood sugar.

Until the jury is out, I'll continue to just use everything in moderation. That usually seems to be the best course anyway.

By Mor — On Oct 16, 2011

@browncoat - I guess certain feeds might overbalance the amount of capric acid in the milk and make it smell like that. I had an introduction to smelly goat milk when I was a kid, and swore I would never touch the stuff again, because I thought it was awful.

One of my friends keeps some goats and she finally convinced me to try some of her milk recently. To my surprise it was almost exactly the same as cow milk, although it seemed slightly creamier and sweeter. I guess she takes very good care of her goats!

I'm told goat milk is very good for you. I've heard stories of children who had allergies magically disappear when their parents started feeding them goat milk, rather than cow milk although I've had no experience with that myself.

By browncoat — On Oct 15, 2011

If you want to make sure your goat milk doesn't smell "goaty" then there are a few things you can do.

First, and you should be doing this anyway, you should make sure that all the surfaces your milk may touch on its way from goat to glass are scrupulously clean. That includes the goat's udder, your hands, the equipment and so forth. You should handle the milk professionally, cooling it as soon as possible after milking.

Second, your goat should be as healthy as possible. She should be fed a good diet and nothing that is very strong smelling.

Third, don't feed her for about two hours before milking her.

Generally, its contamination or diet that cause the odors so if you keep an eye on those, you should be all right.

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