BACKGROUND: Amino acids are the essential building blocks of proteins and, therefore, living organisms. While the focus often lies on the canonical or proteinogenic amino acids, there is also a large number of non-canonical amino acids to explore. Some of them are part of toxins or antibiotics in fungi, bacteria or animals (e.g. sponges). Some others operate at the translational level like an "undercover agent". SCOPE OF REVIEW: Here we give an overview of natural aliphatic amino acids, up to a side chain length of five carbons, without rings and with an unmodified backbone, and have a closer look on each of them. Some of them are dehydro amino acids with double or even triple bonds. Moreover, we outline mathematical methods for enumerating the complete list of all potential aliphatic amino acids of a given chain length. This should be of interest for synthetic biology. MAJOR CONCLUSIONS: Most non-proteinogenic amino acids are found within fungi, with particularly many produced by Amanita species as defence chemicals. Several are incorporated into peptide antibiotics. Some of the amino acids occur due to broad substrate specificity of the branched-chain amino acid synthesis pathways. A large variety of amino acids were also found in the Murchison meteorite. GENERAL SIGNIFICANCE: Non-proteinogenic amino acids are of interest for numerous medical applications: discovery of new antibiotics, support in designing synthetic antibiotics, improvement of protein and peptide pharmaceuticals by avoiding incorporation of non-canonical amino acids, study of toxic cyanobacteria and other applications.