a national information resource for value-added agriculture
Agricultural Marketing Resource Center


By Malinda Geisler, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, malindag@iastate.edu.
Profile updated July 2012.


Cuphea (koo fee ah) is an oilseed crop that offers potential as an ingredient for toothpastes, shampoos and detergents. It produces a small oilseed that contains high levels of lauric acid, a natural fatty acid, offering an alternative to imported coconut and palm kernel oils. With the fluctuations in price and diminishing supply of coconut and palm kernel oil, U.S. detergent companies are working to develop alternative sources of lauric acid. Procter and Gamble has been involved in developing cuphea for 20 years.

Cuphea's properties are also being researched as an additive for biodiesel with cold-flow properties equivalent to or better than those of petroleum diesel. For example, aircraft fuel thickens below -20 degrees C, creating pumping problems, but the addition of cuphea oil reduces the fuel's freezing point. 

The plant genus Cuphea has about 260 species, but only a few of these species are used commercially. It is an annual that is naturally indeterminate, prone to shattering and sticky. Depending on the variety, the plant grows eight to 16 inches tall and is cross- or self-pollinating. It originated from Mexico and Central America. Family Lythraceae offers the best opportunities for commercialization.

Research in recent years has focused on development of a non-shattering, non-dormant species. Field trials in the Midwest suggest the crop could be grown in a corn and soybean rotation using the same farm equipment. Trials have also shown cuphea helped reduce corn rootworm infestations when used in rotation.


Breakthroughs Toward the Domestication of Cuphea, Purdue University, 1993.
Cuphea, National Non-Food Crops Centre, United Kingdom.
Cuphea: A New Plant Source of Medium-chain Fatty Acids, National Institute of Health.
Cuphea, Western Illinois University’s Alternative Crops Research Program.

Other Links

Links checked November 2013.


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