Trans Fats Inspire Fear and Loathing

With the labeling deadline approaching and consumers becoming wary, processors search for substitutes for the functionality of trans fatty acids.

By Kantha Shelke, Ingredients Editor

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Seafood, which is gaining popularity as a healthful food, also has a problem with added trans fats: They come along with the breading/coating or the frying. Ocean Cuisine International (www.oceancuisine.com), a Danvers, Mass., seafood supplier, has begun removing trans fats. "Phasing out trans fat in our products and encouraging the consumption of seafood can help improve our consumers' nutrition and help them live longer and healthier lives," says Bill DiMento, director of international food safety and regulatory affairs.

Likewise, Gorton's Inc., Gloucester, Mass., removed trans fats from all 56 of its retail frozen seafood products.

Options for removal

The Jan. 1 deadline provides an opportunity for ingredient vendors to develop and market nutritionally superior replacements that can cost-effectively provide the structure, taste and shelf-life functionality of trans fats. At this time, however, no single oil or naturally occurring fat lives up to this tall order.

The range of options for food formulators to reduce or remove trans fats includes one or more of the following:

  • Blending fully hydrogenated fats with liquid oils;
  • Using more stable vegetable oils obtained through biotechnology or traditional plant breeding;
  • Rearranging the chemical structure of unsaturated oils by exchanging with portions of high-saturated fat oils;
  • Employing other ingredients to create trans fatty acids’ functionality texture, strength or volume;
  • Advanced nutritional solutions
Those options in greater detail:
  1. Hydrogenated fats and liquid oil blends

    Tropical oils, used extensively for centuries in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, are being revived now as part of the solution to the trans fat problem. Of the tropical oils, palm oil is relatively low in saturated fat content (50 percent) and shows many of the functional properties of partially hydrogenated oils, making it an alternative for providing body and texture to products.

    In addition to versatility, stability and functionality in frying, baking and coating applications, palm oils are similar to soybean oil in price. Fractionation can closely match functionality with most partially hydrogenated oils. Palm oil saturates, ideal for creamy texture and stable aeration required in most baked goods, also are associated with high-density lipoprotein (often called “good” cholesterol).

    Sans Trans cooking oil (www.sanstrans.com) is a palm-oil based solution for trans fat from Loders Croklaan (www.croklaan.com), Channahon, Ill. It does, however, receive criticism from nutritionists for its saturates. Manufacturers of chocolate-based baked goods can have clean label coatings with the right eating qualities with Croklaan's Freedom Series. Both products "are created with lower levels of saturates [relative to hydrogenated or fractionated palm kernel oil] to provide stability to protect the products through distribution," according to Gerald McNeill, technical director for the U.S. arm of this Dutch-owned company.

    Loders Croklaan is part of the world's largest palm oil-producing concern. McNeill notes the Freedom products "deliver steep melting profiles to bridge the gap of nutritional responsibility and great taste."

    An innovative tallow-based solution comes from Source Food Technology (www.nextraoil.com), Durham, N.C. The company licensed technology from Brandeis University to create Nextra cooking oil for foodservice frying. A proprietary blend of tallow with corn oil, Nextra reduces trans fat and its undesirable effects on cholesterol. The oil also delivers a longer fry life and keeps foods hotter longer. "Nextra extends fry life up to two times, and less oil is required to refill or top off fryers," says Hank Cardello, chairman/CEO of Source Food Technology.
  2. Enhanced stability through breeding

    Vistive, a new, low-linolenic strain of soybean seeds developed by St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. (www.monsanto.com), produces oils with the functional attributes valued by processors but with reduced or zero trans fats. Reducing the linolenic acid effectively reduces or eliminates the need for partial hydrogenation - the source of trans fats in processed soybean oil. Oil from Vistive soybean seeds (available to farmers for 2005 planting) has less than 3 percent linolenic acid and is more flavorful and stable, with less need for hydrogenation than oils from traditional soybeans with 8 percent linolenic acid.

    Special breeding of canola plants by Dow AgroSciences yields an oil with high levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.

    "The Natreon solution," explains David Dzisiak, oils and oilseeds global leader for Dow AgroSciences, "is canola bred without transgenic means to yield oils with high levels of the healthful fatty acids, great taste and the right functionality for commercial foodservice fryers." Natreon, from Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences (www.natreon.com), is a virtually zero trans fat vegetable oil with very low levels of saturated fats.

    With about 7 percent saturated fat and 70 percent monounsaturated fat, Natreon also contains more omega-3 polyunsaturated fats than most of the partially hydrogenated oils it can replace. "So consumers can get fried foods containing healthful monounsaturated and omega-3 fats," Dzisiak continues. It also is resistant to high heat and lasts longer than most oils.

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