Abstract The caatinga semi-arid ecosystem of northeastern Brazil is characterized by a dry, spiny and predominantly deciduous shrub/forest vegetation, and many species there are potential sources of renewable resources for the oleochemical industry. The present research determined the oil content and fatty acid profiles of seeds from eight caatinga species. Seed oils were extracted in a Soxhlet system, and their fatty acid content identified by GC–MS. Oil content varied between 20.2% in Tabebuia impetiginosa (Mart.) Standl. (Bignoniaceae) and 46.4% in Barnebya harleyi (W.R. Anderson & B. Gates) Malpighiaceae. Anemopaegma laeve DC. (Bignoniaceae) had the highest oleic acid content (63.4%), while high levels of linoleic acid were found in Banisteriopsis pubipetala (Juss.) Cuatrec. (42.8%) and B. harleyi (31.9%) (both Malpighiaceae). Palmitic acid was the major fatty acid (50%) in Hippocratea volubilis (L.) (Celastraceae). High levels of linoleic and linolenic acids were found in Croton adamantinus Mull. Arg. (Euphorbiaceae), averaging 44.2% and 45.2% respectively. Gadoleic acid in was the most abundant fatty acid in the oil produced by Serjania lethalis A. St. Hill. (Sapindaceae), averaging 69.6%. B. pubipetala, B. harleyi, C. adamantinus, and H. volubilis were identified as promising species for cultivation.