How Food Processors Removed Trans Fats Ahead of Deadline

Here's how several processors removed trans fats before the Jan. 1 labeling deadline.

By Kantha Shelke, Ingredients Editor

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Popular replacements

Of the various ingredients emerging to help eliminate TFAs from food products, none that we've seen at Corvus Blue has matched the functionality, availability, robustness and economics of PHOs. The ideal candidate would have to address four major issues concurrently: stability (during storage and during high-temperature processing), nutrition (must not add other health issues), comparable taste (functionality and hedonics) and be as affordable and abundant as PHOs.

Commercial bakers switched from "natural" animal fats (lard, butter and tallow) to tropical oils such as palm and palm kernel oils when added cholesterol was deemed to be bad for health. When saturated fats became a health concern, they turned to partially hydrogenated fats as the healthier, inexpensive and more viable alternative. Now, some in the baking industry - including Sara Lee, General Mills and Interstate Bakeries - are returning to palm and palm kernel oils.

The result is less than ideal: increased saturated fat levels and possibly different perceived health risks. Palm oils also are popular because of their cost and abundance.


Removing trans fats: Cinnamon buns made with canola oil

Bakers are using trait-enhanced high oleic canola oil, often in oil blends, for its oxidative stability. Photo: Canola Council of Canada.

Refractionated palm oil also performs well in sweet baked goods, confectionary and doughnut and snack toppings according to Gerald McNeill, R&D director at Loders Croklaan USA (, Channahon, Ill. That's because of its melting properties and texture similar to that of cocoa butter but at a lower cost than that TFA-free alternative. Also, McNeill stresses, "Palmitic acid, the principal fat in palm oil, is also the main saturated fat in humans or animals. There are less chances of discovering any incompatibilities and health issues down the road as were discovered for TFAs. Using a saturated fat common in the human food chain reduces the risk of commercialization outpacing the science of nutrition metabolism."

Bakers are also using oil blends containing trait-enhanced high oleic canola oil and fully hydrogenated cottonseed oil - the former for oxidative stability and the latter for structure and body. Fully hydrogenated oils have no TFAs, but they increase saturated fat content. Trait-enhanced oils come with long lead times for contract acreage and price increase implications.

Soybean oil contains about 14 percent saturated fat, a little more than canola oil but still much less than most of its trans fat replacement competitors. Even in moderate oil applications, that might make a difference of only 1g per serving. Soybean oil's lower linolenic content and higher linoleic acid composition may yield a better taste profile, according to Rob Kirby, president of the Nexcel Natural Ingredients div. ( of Spectrum Foods Inc., Springfield, Ill.

Other vegetable oils - canola, corn, cottonseed, olive, peanut, and sunflower - are less abundant than soy, more expensive, less saturated but more unstable due to their polyunsaturated and omega-3 fat vulnerability. Some commercial solutions are using proprietary processes to remove the omega-3s and polyunsaturated fatty acids for increased stability. Others blend in saturated fats - butter fat, tropical oils, beef tallow, lard or hydrogenated soy oil - trading their functionality and stability for the health benefits of the base oil.

Organic foods raise other considerations. "According to the FDA's National Organic Program, organic oils may not be extracted with the use of the hexane solvents typically used by the large oil processors," says Kirby. So organic food processors must use oils made with the extruder/expeller-pressed method followed up by "physical refining." "The combination yields a product that is not only naturally produced, but has wonderful stability and taste characteristics," Kirby says, adding that his firm's Nexsoy Organic Soybean Oil is so produced.

Yet other oil processors use genetic engineering or selective breeding to create seeds that produce vegetable oils with enhanced traits suitable for TFA-free applications. There are two trait-enhanced vegetable oils available commercially: low-linolenic soy or high-oleic canola. Organic and natural food processors favor non-genetically engineered high-oleic canola such as Natreon from Dow AgroSciences (, Indianapolis.

Natreon, derived from naturally bred Nexera canola seed, is naturally stable due to its high-oleic and low-linolenic fatty acid profile. It also has a significant additional health benefit: During frying it does not produce the precursors to cancer-causing polyacrylamides. Nor does it darken, so foods fried in Natreon look and taste good. Pat Kearney, Natreon spokesperson, claims "Processors using Natreon stand to benefit tremendously from consumer uncertainty about genetically engineered foods - since this demographic that cares about TFAs also cares about their health and the [possible] effects of genetically engineered foods."

Mark Matlock, senior vice president of food research at ADM (, Decatur, Ill., says there are several commercially viable alternatives that not only behave like hydrogenated oils but also are relatively healthy. One commercial solution gaining popularity is interesterified oils, including ADM's NovaLipid. The ingredient has functionalities tailored by switching fatty acid chains between liquid oil, such as canola, and saturated oil, such as palm, using the enzyme lipozyme from ADM partner Novozymes.

Wholesale bakeries such as Interstate Bakeries Corp., Kansas City, Mo., find interesterified oils work particularly well in conjunction with emulsifiers in yeast-raised products that typically use highly emulsified shortening. They also work as buttercream-icing shortenings. Plus, bakers have FDA permission to label it as interesterified soybean oil.


About the Author

Kantha Shelke is a principal at Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago firm that specializes in competitive intelligence and expert witness services. Contact her at or 312-951-5810.

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