The relative cellular uptake and incorporation into prechylomicrons and chylomicrons was investigated for the menhaden and rapeseed oil fatty acids, when given by stomach tube as the original oils or the corresponding methyl and ethyl esters. The intermediates and final products of cellular acylation were determined by chromatographic methods at various times over a period of 1-24 h. There was little selectivity in the uptake among the oligo- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids of menhaden oil, when either oil or esters were fed. In contrast, the long-chain saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids of rapeseed oil were discriminated against during both cellular uptake and reacylation (60% overall reduction in utilization). Also, there was detectable discrimination against the long-chain polyunsaturated monoacylglycerols of menhaden oil and against the long-chain saturated and monounsatured monoacylglycerols of rapeseed oil during both cellular uptake and reacylation (30% overall reduction in utilization). Evidence was obtained for an indiscriminate cellular uptake of variable amounts (4-22%) of intact dietary methyl and ethyl esters of fatty acids, which, however, appeared in the chylomicrons only to a very limited extent (0.1-1.0% of total lipid). During peak absorption the cellular and lymphatic appearance of fatty acids from the digestion and absorption of the alkyl esters was nearly 50% lower than that from the corresponding triacylglycerols. The slower absorption of the fatty acids from the alkyl ester feeding is hypothetically attributed to a lower efficiency of the phosphatidic acid pathway, which is required in the absence of dietary 2-monoacylglycerols, but other mechanisms cannot be excluded.