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Triglyceride (Molecule of the Month for March 2007)

triacylglyceride, triacylglycerol, fatty acids

Triglyceride is glyceride in which the glycerol is esterified with three fatty acids. It is the main constituent of vegetable oil and animal fats. The three fatty acids can be all different, all the same, or only two the same, they can be saturated or unsaturated fatty acids. Chain lengths of the fatty acids in naturally occurring triglycerides can be of varying lengths but 16, 18 and 20 carbons are the most common. Natural fatty acids found in plants and animals are typically composed only of even numbers of carbon atoms due to the way they are bio-synthesised.

Most natural fats contain a complex mixture of individual triglycerides; because of this, they melt over a broad range of temperatures. Cocoa butter is unusual in that it is composed of only a few triglycerides, one of which contains palmitic, oleic and stearic acids in that order. This gives rise to a fairly sharp melting point, causing chocolate to melt in the mouth without feeling greasy.

In cells, triglyceride (also known as neutral fat) can pass through the cell membrane freely, unlike other molecules, because of its non-polar characteristic which doesn't react with the phospholipid bilayer membrane. Triglycerides, as major components of very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) and chylomicrons, play an important role in metabolism as energy sources and transporters of dietary fat. They contain more than twice as much energy (9 kcal/g) as carbohydrates and proteins. In the intestine, triglycerides are split into glycerol and fatty acids (this process is called lipolysis) (with the help of lipases and bile secretions), which can then move into blood vessels. The triglycerides are rebuilt in the blood from their fragments and become constituents of lipoproteins, which deliver the fatty acids to and from fat cells among other functions. Various tissues can release the free fatty acids and take them up as a source of energy. Fat cells can synthesize and store triglycerides. When the body requires fatty acids as an energy source, the hormone glucagon signals the breakdown of the triglycerides by hormone-sensitive lipase to release free fatty acids.

Formal Chemical Name (IUPAC)
propane-1,2,3-triyl tris(icosanoate)



Picture of Triglyceride

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Triglyceride structure
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Picture of Triglyceride

C63 H12 2O6

Update by Karl Harrison
(Molecule of the Month for March 2007 )