oils

oils, term commonly used to indicate a variety of greasy, fluid substances that are, in general, viscous liquids at ordinary temperatures, less dense than water, insoluble in water but soluble in alcohol and ether, and flammable. These substances, however, differ so much among themselves in chemical composition that, in chemistry, their classification in one group is not practical and is employed only in a general way in accordance with popular usage. Petroleum and substances obtained from it, which are mixtures of hydrocarbons, are classed together, because of their origin, as mineral oils. They are widely used as fuels, illuminants, and lubricants. Distinguished from these in that they are obtained from animals and plants and are mixtures of carbon-hydrogen-oxygen compounds are the fatty oils or fixed oils. There is fundamentally no difference between fatty oils and fats (see fats and oils). Such oils are used extensively as lubricants and in the making of soap. Depending upon their ability to oxidize when exposed to the atmosphere and form a thin, skinlike layer over substances upon which they are spread, the fixed, or fatty, oils are classed as drying or nondrying oils. The drying oils, e.g., linseed, hempseed, and poppy seed oil, are used in making paints and varnishes. On the other hand, such vegetable oils as olive, rapeseed, and castor oil and such animal oils as lard oil and neat's-foot oil do not possess this property and fall into the nondrying group. Another large and varied group of oils is recognized, the essential oils or volatile oils, which occur in plants but differ from the fixed, or fatty, oils in that they are volatile. In general, they give to the plant in which they are found its characteristic odor, flavor, or other properties peculiar to it.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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