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What is Erucic Acid?

By Douglas Bonderud
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Erucic acid is a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid. It is known as monounsaturated because it has only one double-bonded carbon atom in its fatty acid chain. The term omega-9 refers to a group of fatty acids, including erucic and oleic acid, which have their double carbon bond occurring at the ninth position from the end of their acid chains. This is known as the n-9 position.

Major sources of this acid include rapeseed, mustard seed, and wallflower seed. In all of these plants, erucic acid constitutes 40 to 50% of their oils. Ingestion of large amounts of this acid have been linked to heart damage. Due to health concerns, a strain of rapeseed known as canola, which had low acid volume, was developed.

There are still two strains of rapeseed currently being cultivated. One is low erucic acid rapeseed (LEAR), and the other is high erucic acid rapeseed (HEAR). LEAR is used in food production and HEAR is primarily used to create a slip agent for plastics production.

This acid is not soluble in water, but does dissolve in methanol and ethanol. It is used to make a wide range of chemicals. Products produced using erucic acid include lubricants, cosmetics, nylon, and polyester. It is also a component in bio-diesel, a vegetable-based fuel source.

The term 'erucic' is from the Latin eruca. This is a genus of plants from the family Brassicaceae, all of which flower. This acid is found naturally in many green plants of this family, in addition to rapeseed and mustard seed. Kale, brussel sprouts, and broccoli are also all natural sources of the acid.

Studies have shown that large amounts of erucic acid fed to animals can result in fat deposits infiltrating their heart walls. For this reason, oils high in this acid are no longer used for cooking in many parts of the world. The European Union has banned the use of mustard oil for cooking food products. More recent scientific data suggests that potential damage done to the heart by this acid may be transient rather than permanent.

A mixture of two fatty acids, erucic and oleic, were used to create Lorenzo's oil, which is used to treat adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). ALD is an inherited disorder that causes adrenal gland failure, brain damage, and death. The triglyceride forms of these two acids, in a four-to-one ratio of oleic to erucic acid, were used to treat young Lorenzo Odone in the 1980s. In long term studies, Lorenzo's oil has been shown to have positive effects for suffers of the disease.

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Discussion Comments
By anon995635 — On May 16, 2016

2 to 5 percent is OK for our health but more then this percentage is unsafe for human use because it have such a bitter taste. In Pakistan, canola is cultivated, but has more erucic acid -- I think more or less 40 percent. The main issue is in cultivated areas where more water occurs. If it is cultivated in dry areas, it means less availability of water present, so then the level of erucic acid is lower.

By anon335984 — On May 25, 2013

Canola oil is unhealthy. Look it up. The processing of this oil -- 'deodorisation' -- changes it and there are animal experiments that show how unhealthy it is, poor wee critters.

By honeybees — On Apr 19, 2012

Of the foods mentioned that naturally contain erucic acid, kale and broccoli are a regular part of my diet. I have never been able to make myself like brussel sprouts no matter how much cheese I put on them!

I have never heard anything bad about eating too much of these green vegetables. I have always eaten a lot of broccoli, but recently I was introduced to kale.

My husband loves to eat chips, but has been trying to eat healthier and give up his chips. I made some kale chips for him in the dehydrator and they tasted pretty good. I was surprised at how much crunch they had.

Our bodies must assimilate the erucic acid found in these fresh vegetables differently than if it was processed in an oil.

By SarahSon — On Apr 19, 2012

@julies - There is some controversy among those in the health food industry regarding how healthy canola oil is for you.

As with most things, you will often find different opinions on what is good for you and what isn't.

I haven't done much research on it, but I usually stick with olive oil or coconut oil for my cooking.

By julies — On Apr 18, 2012

I have seen canola oil used a lot lately. When I read through the list of ingredients on many products from the health food store, this is one of the oils that is often used.

Many people consider this to be a healthy oil and is much better for you than using something like vegetable oil.

I find it interesting to read about erucic acid and how many of those oils that contain high amounts of it are unsafe for cooking.

While I knew that canola came from rapeseed oil, I had never heard of anyone using wallflower seed or mustard oil to cook with. It sounds like there is good reason for that.

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