Castor Oil Substitutes

by J.D. Richards
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Castor oil is a highly versatile, useful and naturally occurring substance. Made of a long chain of fatty acids, the oil comes from the castor bean, a seed of the tropical castor plant. Castor oil has abundant uses in industry and medicine, so finding the right substitute depends on how it is being used.

Oil of Anda

Castor oil is used in homeopathic medicine as a laxative. According to Scientific American, a Brazilian fruit called the anda produces an oil that can substitute for castor oil in this capacity. It has three advantages over castor oil: a smaller dose, about 20 drops, will do the trick; it is less viscid, so less likely to nauseate the patient; and it has no disagreeable smell or pungent flavor.

Cremophor EL

Another common use of castor oil is as an excipient, a neutral suspension used to deliver the active ingredient in drugs. A substitute for castor oil in this usage is Cremophor EL, a synthetic compound patented by the chemical company BASF SE. Cremophor EL is created by reacting 35 parts ethylene oxide with one part castor oil. Drugs it is combined with include Miconazole, an anti-fungal; Paclitaxel, an anti-cancer; and Vitamin K injections.


Vegetable oils make good lubricants for engines and other mechanical parts, but their low-temperature viscosity tends to be worse than that of petroleum-based oils. Castor oil, however, has good low-temperature viscosity. Indeed, automotive company Castrol named itself after the oil.

All vegetable oils make an attractive alternative to petroleum-based lubricants, as companies and individuals strive to be better stewards of the environment. Vegetable oils biodegrade, and they are renewable. Due to technological advances and initiatives put forth by the United States government, the publication Machinery Lubrication predicts that vegetable oils will become more viable and popular than ever in the decade of the 2010s. Specific alternatives include sunflower oil and soybean oil.

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