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).