Preparation of fatty acid methyl esters for gas-chromatographic analysis of marine lipids: insight studies

Ana P. Carvalho, F. Xavier Malcata*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Citations (Scopus)


Assays for fatty acid composition in biological materials are commonly carried out by gas chromatography, after conversion of the lipid material into the corresponding methyl esters (FAME) via suitable derivatization reactions. Quantitative derivatization depends on the type of catalyst and processing conditions employed, as well as the solubility of said sample in the reaction medium. Most literature pertinent to derivatization has focused on differential comparison between alternative methods; although useful to find out the best method for a particular sample, additional studies on factors that may affect each step of FAME preparation are urged. In this work, the influence of various parameters in each step of derivatization reactions was studied, using both cod liver oil and microalgal biomass as model systems. The accuracies of said methodologies were tested via comparison with the AOCS standard method, whereas their reproducibility was assessed by analysis of variance of (replicated) data. Alkaline catalysts generated lower levels of long-chain unsaturated FAME than acidic ones. Among these, acetyl chloride and BF3 were statistically equivalent to each other. The standard method, which involves alkaline treatment of samples before acidic methylation with BF3, provided equivalent results when compared with acidic methylation with BF3 alone. Polarity of the reaction medium was found to be of the utmost importance in the process: intermediate values of polarity [e.g., obtained by a 1:1 (v/v) mixture of methanol with diethyl ether or toluene] provided amounts of extracted polyunsaturated fatty acids statistically higher than those obtained via the standard method.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5049-5059
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2005


  • Derivatization
  • Fish oil
  • Methylation
  • Microalgae
  • Polarity index
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Transmethylation


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