Napoleon's Buttons: Chapter 14 - Oleic Acid

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History - Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur

... in which we learn about the history and mytholgoy of olive oil, the chemical properties of olive oil, and soap-making.


"Olive oil, a valued trade item for thousands of years, has been called the lifeblood of the societies that developed around the Mediterranean Sea. Even as civilizations rose and fell in the region, the olive tree and its golden oil were always at the base of their prosperity and at the heart of their culture."


"The more double bonds in a fatty acid, the more bent it is and the less efficient its packing. Less efficient packing requires less energy to overcome the attractions holding the molecules together, and they can therefore be separated at lower temperatures. Triglycerides with a higher proportion of unsaturated fatty acids tend to be liquids at room temperature rather than solids. We call them oils; they are most often of plant origin. Saturated fatty acids that can pack closely together require more energy to separate individual molecules and so melt at higher temperatures. Triglycerides from animal sources, with a higher proportion of saturated fatty acids than oils, are solid at room temperature. We call them fats."