Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) seed oil with high palmitic acid content has enhanced thermo-oxidative stability, which makes it well suited to high-temperature uses. CAS-5 is a sunflower mutant line that accumulates over 25 % palmitic acid in its seed oil, compared to 5–8 % in conventional cultivars. The objective of this study was to investigate the molecular basis of the high-palmitic acid trait in CAS-5 through both candidate gene and QTL mapping approaches. An F2 population derived from the cross between CAS-5 and the conventional line HA-89 was developed. A 3-ketoacyl-ACP synthase II (KASII) locus on a telomeric region of linkage group (LG) 9 of the sunflower genetic map was found to co-segregate with palmitic acid content in this population. The KASII locus explained the vast majority of the phenotypic variation (98 %) of the trait. Two minor QTL affecting palmitic acid content were also found on the lower half of LG 9 and on LG 17. Additionally, QTL associated with other major fatty acids (stearic, oleic, and linoleic acid) were identified on LG 1, 6, and 10. This result may reflect untapped genetic variation that could exist among sunflower cultivars for genes determining fatty acid composition. In addition to demonstrating the major role of a KASII locus in the accumulation of high levels of palmitic acid in CAS-5 seeds, this study stressed the importance of characterizing genes with minor effects on fatty acid profile in order to establish optimal breeding strategies for modifying fatty acid composition in sunflower seed oil.