Obtained mainly from the palm tree, palmitic acid was first discovered by the French chemist, Edmond Fremy, who also worked on the utilization of the same fatty acid for the process of candle making. The saturated fatty acid was named palmitic, based on the French word palmitique, meaning 'pith of the palm tree'. In this article, we will discuss the structure of the chemical, its sources and different uses - in chemistry and otherwise - that it is known for.
The molecular formula of palmitic acid is CH3(CH2)14COOH. Its nomenclature according to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry or IUPAC, is hexadecanoic acid. Its structure can be studied with the diagram that has been given in this article. It is the first fatty acid to be produced during the process of lipogenesis, or the process by which acetyl-CoA is transformed to fats. Once palmitic acid is produced, no other fatty acid can be produced from it. This is because that the palmitate feeds on acetyl-CoA carboxylase. This acetyl-CoA carboxylase or ACC converts acetyl-CoA to malonyl-CoA which is added to the acyl chain that constantly grows. This prevents palmitate generation, and the reduction of palmitic acid results in the production of cetyl alcohol.
Palmitic acid is a fatty acid, a type of carboxylic acid which has a long aliphatic tail, which is unbranched and either saturated or unsaturated. If fatty acids are derived from natural fats or oils, they will have at least 8 carbon atoms. Most fatty acids derived from natural sources have an even number of atoms of carbon. This is because when they are biosynthesized, it involves the presence of acetyl-CoA, a two-carbon-atom group carrying co-enzyme. If a fatty acid is a saturated fatty acid, then all carbons in the acid would contain as many hydrogen atoms as possible with the exception of the carboxylic acid group. Saturated fatty acids also do not have any other functional groups along with the chain. They form straight chains which are packed together very tightly. This is the reason that living organisms can store chemical energy in dense amounts. The fatty tissues of animals contain huge quantities of long chain saturated fatty acids. It is one of the most common saturated fatty acids and is found in large amounts in animals and plants. The most common sources are the oils from palm trees, like palm oil, coconut oil and palm kernel oil. As mentioned earlier, the name for the fatty acid is derived from the French term for the pith (substance found in vascular plants) of the palm tree. Butter, milk, meat, and cheese are also good sources of palmitic acid.
The molar mass of palmitic acid is 256.40 grams/mol. It has a density of 0.850 grams per cubic centimeter at a temperature of 62 degrees centigrade. The melting point of palmitic acid is about 63 degrees centigrade and its boiling point touches 352 degrees centigrade. It is insoluble in water. The salts or esters derived from the acid are called palmitates.
The most widely known use of palmitic acid is that it is an essential ingredient in soap making. During the Second World War, it was used after being combined with naphtha, the most volatile part of liquid hydrocarbons, to form napalm, which is a gelling agent that is used in defense operations. Researchers are still debating over its effects. According to the World Health Organization, consumption of the chemical can increase the chances of occurrence of cardiovascular diseases. There is a contradictory study that says that its intake has no such effect. Derivatives are used in different anti-psychotic medicines, especially in the treatment of schizophrenia.
This article on palmitic acid, explaining its structure, chemical composition, benefits and other characteristics, has hopefully, cleared all your doubts.