Class practical

Food labels and advertisements often refer to unsaturated fats and oils. A comparison of the amounts of unsaturated fats and oils present in different foodstuffs can be made by titrating solutions of samples with aqueous bromine (bromine water), which reacts with the carbon - carbon double bonds present in such fats and oils.

Lesson organisation

This is suitable as a class experiment for advanced classes where sufficient fume cupboard space is available, perhaps as part of a circus of experiments if such space is limited. Do not be tempted to do this in an open lab as too much bromine vapour escapes. Two such titrations, comparing two different fats or oils on a semi-quantitative basis, might be done in 45 minutes by students who already have experience of carrying out titrations.

Apparatus Chemicals

Eye protection

Each working group will require:

Conical flask (100 cm3)

Dropping pipette

Measuring cylinder (10 or 25 cm3)

Burette, filled with bromine water (Note 1)

Burette stand, or clamp and stand

White tile

A fume cupboard

Bromine water, approx 0.02 M (HARMFUL), provided in ready-filled burettes (Note 2)

Volasil 244 (HARMFUL), 5 cm3 needed for each titration (Note 3)

Various vegetable oils, fats, as available (Note 4)

Refer to Health & Safety and Technical notes section below for additional information.

Health & Safety and Technical notes

Read our standard health & safety guidance

Wear eye protection. The whole procedure should take place in a fume cupboard. 

Bromine water, Br2(aq), (HARMFUL) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard and CLEAPSS Recipe Book.

Volasil 244 (HARMFUL) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard.

1 50 cm3 burettes will not fit in many fume cupboards - 25 cm3 burettes are better, if available. The burettes should be filled in the fume cupboard with great care to avoid spillage. If the experiment is not carried out on the same day they should be loosely corked to reduce evaporative loss of bromine.

2 Bromine water should be freshly prepared in a fume cupboard. 1 dm3 should be sufficient for around 10 working groups carrying out two titrations each. If less is required, reduce quantitiespro rata, but any excess can be stored as bromine water for future qualitative use. The experiment is only semi-quantitative – essentially comparing results for different foodstuffs. 

3 Volasils are organo-silicon (silicone) solvents which are safer to use than most common organic solvents. Volasil 244 (octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane) is available from VWR International (formerly Merck/BDH) and Sigma-Aldrich.

4 Coconut oil, olive oil, palm oil and sunflower oil should give a good range of comparative results. Animal fats can be tried, but should be pre-tested to ensure they dissolve sufficiently in Volasil 244; melted fats may dissolve more readily than solid fats.


 Measure 5 cm3 of Volasil into the conical flask.

b Using a dropping pipette, carefully add exactly five drops of the selected oil to the Volasil, and swirl to ensure mixing.

c Note the initial reading of the bromine water in the burette.

d Add the bromine water from the burette to the solution in the conical flask slowly, shaking vigorously after each addition until the bromine colour disappears.

e As the bromine colour takes longer to fade with each addition, add less bromine water each time until there is just an excess of bromine in the flask, as shown by a permanent yellow tint.

f Note the final reading of the burette. Subtract the initial reading to find the volume added.

g Repeat the experiment with exactly five drops of a different oil.

If a solid fat is tested, use a top-pan balance to measure out a mass equal to the mass of 5 drops of oil.

Teaching notes

The experiment gives a rough comparison of the degrees of unsaturation of the oils and fats tested, but the results cannot be translated into a quantitative comparison.

If students find the colour change to a permanent yellow difficult to distinguish, a variation can be tried using potassium manganate(VII) solution, KMnO4(aq), 0.0005 M instead. This should be acidified using 0.1 M sulfuric acid - see CLEAPSS Hazcard and CLEAPSS Recipe Book. The purple solution turns colourless while unsaturation is still present. The procedure is the same as for bromine water, but 1 cm3 portions of the potassium manganate(VII) are added with swirling until the mixture retains a feint purple colour. The mixture requires more and more swirling as the total amount of potassium manganate(VII) used increases.

Warming fats in the Volasil using a beaker of hot water helps the fat dissolve and also speeds up the reaction.

Health & Safety checked, August 2016


This Practical Chemistry resource was developed by the Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

© Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry

Page last updated October 2015