February 1, 2008
By Lynn Petrak
The next generation of fats and oils allows consumers to indulge, if only in moderation, without regretting the decision later.
Guilty or not guilty, that is the question. In the court of public opinion, jurors have been undecided for a long time when it comes to health and nutrition. Swayed back and forth between the two extremes, it’s almost as if Americans have a split personality. Sometimes, they’re disciplined. This quickly is followed by “I’ve been good, I’m gonna treat myself.” Other times, consumers take a “what the heck” attitude, only to fall into a guilt-ridden remorse diet.
Today, though, it seems that the pendulum is smack-dab in the middle, with the growing expectation that there doesn’t have to be that big of a gap between food that tastes good and food that is, at least, not bad for you.
Where those consumer attitudes meet product formulation and new product development is when the issue can get sticky — literally and figuratively. Certain fats and oils, for instance, are used in snack food and bakery products because the ingredients impart particular attributes for functionality and flavor. When those products are replaced, for reasons linked to health and nutrition, there can be challenges ranging from stability issues to drawn-out research and development processes to scrutiny over the replacements themselves.
The parallel consumer demands for both taste and health is exemplified in the continual move away from trans fats that have been deemed unhealthy, with partially hydrogenated oils getting the worst of the bad buzz.
As package labeling regulations have brought the trans fat issue right before consumers’ eyes in big, bold letters over the past two years, bakers and snack producers have had to focus many of their R&D efforts on offering products that have zero trans fat or low trans fat levels.
As a result, companies such as Channahon, Ill.-based Loders Croklaan, North America, now produce a complete line of fats and oils that are trans fat-free, along with fats used as coatings for confections and as adhesives for seasonings.
“No hydrogenation is used at all,” says Gerald McNeill, vice president of research and development, noting that the change was not a small one. “We used to sell partially hydrogenated fats, and we had to reinvent everything from the ground up.”
Tom Tiffany, senior technical sales manager for the ADM Oils unit of Decatur, Ill.-based Archer Daniels Midland, notes that suppliers have been spurred to concentrate on better-for-you oils, which has resulted in new innovations.
“One of the key focuses for ADM is our utilization of enzymatic interesterification,” he explains.
“That is a technology that we pioneered the commercialization of in the U.S., and it can be used for an array of vegetable oils,” Tiffany adds, citing a soy oil-based shortening low in trans fat and a cocoa butter substitute based on palm kernel oil. ADM’s portfolio includes other options for those looking to replace or limit trans fats for frying and baking. These include naturally stable cottonseed and corn oils, and breakthrough blends based on new technologies.
As the trans fat issue has come to the fore, so have new and, in some cases, newfound fats and oils.
Tiffany, for his part, says palm oil is a growing part of ADM’s stable, as well as a natural source of solids necessary for certain food applications.
“We are expanding our palm oil program to offer a broader base of palm and palm blends,” he says. “Palm oil has surpassed the soybean as the most plentiful in the world.”
McNeill, too, reports new product development using palm oils. One example is Loders Croklaan’s Roll-Rite, a laminating fat low in trans fatty acids that can be rolled into delicate dough like puff pastry. Palm oil also is an ingredient in the company’s new reduced-fat shortening, developed in response to demand for fats with lower levels of saturated fat.
Passing Your SATs
In addition to looking at palm oil as a low trans or zero trans replacement, bakers and snack companies are working with other types of oils, many of which are lower in saturated fat.
Soybean oils are one example, including a new type of low-linolenic oil derived from special soybean crops introduced only in the past few years.
“From an initial acreage of 153,000 planted from just three low-linolenic seed varieties offered by two seed companies, low-linolenic soybean acreage has grown to over three million acres planted from numerous seed varieties offered by the two major seed companies and most other regional seed companies,” remarks Richard Galloway, president of Galloway and Associates and an advisor to the board of Qualisoy, which is composed of members representing a cross-section of the soybean industry.
Low-linolenic soybean oil (often referred to as “low-lin”) is being used as a replacement in a variety of food products, from chicken and biscuits served at Kentucky Fried Chicken to snack foods and pastries produced by conglomerates such as Kellogg. Food companies can choose from different suppliers of low-lin soybean oil, including ADM, Cargill, Ag Processing, Monsanto, Bunge and DuPont, among others. (Kellogg, for its part, uses Monsanto’s Vistive low-lin soybean oil to reduce or eliminate trans fatty acids in a number of its products.)
Low-lin isn’t the only soy-based application in the works for frying and baking. According to Galloway, high-stearic soybean oil varieties are expected to follow increased oleic and low-saturated products.
“High-stearic will provide a bakery shortening for various baked goods that will not require hydrogenation and will therefore have low to no grams of trans fat per serving,” he explains, indicating that early research suggests stearic acid may be a cholesterol-neutral type of saturated fat as well, making it a potentially viable option for food companies needing highly stable oil with zero grams trans fat per serving and low in saturates.
Beyond oils derived from palm fruit and soybeans, other types of oils low in trans fatty acid are moving onto ingredient labels. For frying, low-linolenic canola oil is becoming more common, while high oleic canola oil allows for longer shelf life. In baking applications, hydrogenated oils are being swapped for interesterfied oils and some animal fat-based shortenings, among other ingredients.
Although it’s price-prohibitive and more delicate in some ways for commercial applications, butter is included in some blends when combined with margarine and other shortenings. In addition to its traditional attributes favored by bakers, butter also allows for the “clean” label that many consumers seek.
As manufacturers’ needs change and they are able to choose from a broader roster of ingredients, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the industry’s suppliers are boosting their product lines to offer more customized and specialized products. That explains the growing number of blends touted for frying and baking.
According to McNeill, blends are good solutions for many reasons and for a variety of customers.
“We can custom-blend the two main fractions to any rate anyone wants,” he explains. “We have an automated in-line system where you dial up the ratio you want to make custom blends.”
As snack food producers and bakeries keep busy on their own R&D fronts rolling out products that meet consumer palates and nutrition preferences, the fat is in the proverbial fire for suppliers of fats and oils integral to the functionality and flavor of any recipe.
“We get calls all the time from snack food manufacturers requesting types of oils and blends that impact shelf life, Nutrition Facts labels, availability and cost,” Tiffany says. “They are always pushing the envelope to get an edge with different flavors, seasonings and varieties.”
Tiffany adds that fat and oils suppliers have a balancing act of their own.
“We are able to develop alternatives and from time to time it may not be the most functional right away so we have to re-adjust it here and there,” he says.
McNeill notes that the pace has yet to slow down considerably.
“Interestingly enough, last year was busy because a lot of people were switching because of labeling,” he observes. “They had waited because they thought it might be a flash in the pan, but realized that the trans fat issue was here to stay.”
McNeill also anticipates a “third wave” of replacements, this time centered on foods consumed in restaurants.
“There is no label on food you buy in restaurants,” he points out. ‘Some places you can find it, but by and large, most people don’t see it and that is where [politician-imposed] bans on trans fats come in — health officials know people are concerned about fat and know they couldn’t fix it with compulsory labeling.”
McNeill says he expects restaurant owners to not only start switching over the types of oils and fats they use in their kitchens for frying and baking, but to begin adding new menu items and ingredients that are low in trans fats or trans fat-free.
The final verdict is in. Consumers now can have their cake and eat it, too ... and with less guilt. SF&WB