Cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) are negatively charged colloidal particles well known to form highly stable surfactant-free Pickering emulsions. These particles can vary in surface charge density depending on their preparation by acid hydrolysis or applying post-treatments. CNCs with three different surface charge densities were prepared corresponding to 0.08, 0.16 and 0.64 e nm-2, respectively. Post-treatment might also increase the surface charge density. The well-known TEMPO-mediated oxidation substitutes C6-hydroxyl groups by C6-carboxyl groups on the surface. We report that these different modified CNCs lead to stable oil-in-water emulsions. TEMPO-oxidized CNC might be the basis of further modifications. It is shown that they can, for example, lead to hydrophobic CNCs with a simple method using quaternary ammonium salts that allow producing inverse water-in-oil emulsions. Different from CNC modification before emulsification, modification can be carried out on the droplets after emulsification. This way allows preparing functional capsules according to the layer-by-layer process. As a result, it is demonstrated here the large range of use of these biobased rod-like nanoparticles, extending therefore their potential use to highly sophisticated formulations.This article is part of the themed issue 'Soft interfacial materials: from fundamentals to formulation'.