The Composition of Emu Oil: The Micro View
NOTE: The AEA Oil Standards team will present its guidelines at the AEA convention. To help answer the consumer question "what is emu oil?" Dr. Leigh Hopkins, member of that team, offers this perspective.
Emu oil is composed of a saponificable fraction called triglycerides, an un-saponifiable fractions composed primarily of the sterol, cholesterol, and some degraded oil which is measured by the fatty acid fraction.
The triglycerides are a compound which is composed of a glycerol "backbone" with three fatty acids attached. It is the "fat" which the body uses for fat storage purposes. Since the emu oil is rendered from the stored fat of the emu, it is composed entirely of triglycerides minus the compounds discussed in the above paragraph. The following table compares the fatty acid composition of emu oil and human skin and demonstrates the remarkable similarities.
Composition (%) of Fatty Acids from the Emu and Human Skin
Fatty Acid Emu Human Skin
Myristic 0.4 2.1
Palmitic 22.0 20.2
Stearic 9.6 11.2
Palmitoleic 3.5 3.8
Oleic 47.4 30.8
Linoleic 15.2 15.1
Linolenic 0.9 0.3
As the table demonstrates, the two fats are very similar in their fatty acid composition. However, triglycerides from the emu are composed of three fatty acid combinations taken from the above group of fatty acids. It is very likely that it is the character of the specific triglycerides which imparts the qualities to the emu oil which enable it to have such a positive action on the skin. Triglycerides from different animals will have differences in how the fatty acids have combined to form the triglycerides.
These differences are a point of study by the Oil Standards Team to determine if these differences are important. The Oil Standards Team currently identified 13 different triglycerides in the emu oil. Additionally, in another area of research, the skin breaks down the triglycerides into two fatty acids and one mono-glyceride. Perhaps it is these components of the emu oil within the human skin which are important.
Micro-organism action on the oil will be slow to develop in comparison to the enzymatic processes which begin immediately. Thus it is important to cool the fat as quickly as possible to retard all of these adverse processes.
Emu oil that contains moisture and residual protein will support microorganism growth better than a finished emu oil which will be devoid of protein and have a moisture content that is <0.003. Crude emu oil will have a moisture content <0.05%.
The current draft from the Oil Standards Team defines emu oil as having no detectable organisms whether crude or finished. The goal is first to assure the safety of the oil for use by our customers. To achieve this goal, emu oil requires hot sterilization. Many organic oils can be heated to 155 C (300 F) for one hour as a sterilization step. The temperature of boiling water is 212 F. Thus, if emu oil is treated under these conditions both organisms and water is removed. If protein is still present, the heat will coagulate the protein much like cooked egg whites, and the resulting coagulated material can be removed by filtration.
Reprinted from AEA News, Spring 1997
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