This study was designed to test the hypotheses that digestibility and post-absorption metabolism of fish oil are influenced by impaired lipolysis and by the stereospecific composition of its triacylglycerols. Male Wistar rats were fed nonpurified diets containing one of the following fat sources: 9% native fish oil (NFO), 9% autorandomized fish oil (RFO), 8.1% fish oil-derived free fatty acids (FO-FFA) plus 0.9% glycerol, or 9% soybean oil (SO) as a reference fat. In a 24-day balance study, apparent digestibility of total dietary fat averaged 93.1% in the SO, NFO and RFO groups, and 90.9% in the FO-FFA group. Randomization of fish oil had no effect on apparent digestibility of individual fatty acids. In rats fed FO-FFA, apparent absorption of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids was lower when compared to the NFO and RFO groups. Feeding the FO-FFA diet tended to increase plasma triglyceride content. The hypocholesterolemic effect of polyunsaturated n-3 fatty acids was not influenced by the dietary source. Similar effects on fatty acid profiles of plasma and liver phospholipids were caused by the NFO, RFO and the FO-FFA diets. We conclude that once polyunsaturated n-3 fatty acids are absorbed, their effect on lipid metabolism is not determined by the dietary source.