How to Replace Trans Fats

A year after the labeling deadline, we look at what processors used to replace trans fats, including canola and sunflower oils and trait-enhanced soybeans.

By Kathryn Trim, Contributing Editor

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When soybean oil is used as the liquid portion of the blend, the levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are increased compared to palm oil or PHOs used for similar applications. In addition, ADM secured permission from the FDA to offer more consumer-friendly label of "interesterified soybean oil" versus "hydrogenized soybean oil."

At the seed level

One of the biggest trends is to enhance oils through breeding to have more user-friendly traits. Foremost among the desirable traits is lower levels of linolenic acid, which hastens rancidity, and higher levels of oleic acid, which apparently lowers cholesterol.

Yum Brands Inc., the company that owns 5,500 KFC restaurants across the country, recently announced a switch to Monsanto's Vistive brand low-linolenic soybean oil. Kellogg Co. also uses a variety processed from Vistive and Bunge/Pioneer's Treus low-linolenic soybean oils. Popular East Coast restaurant chain Legal Seafood has opted for Cargill's Clear Valley high-oleic canola oil. NuSun, a high-oleic sunflower, is being used in many Frito-Lay products.

The key in both trait-enhanced oils is to offer low levels of unstable polyunsaturated fats, thus eliminating the need to partially hydrogenate. Polyunsaturated fats don't hold up well through the thermal and oxidative degradation of processing and can become rancid, thus having negative effects on the flavor and frying capabilities.

Most low-linolenic versions can cut levels of polyunsaturated fats by 50 percent. Asoyia (, Winfield, Iowa, has ultralow-linolenic soybeans that can reduce linolenic levels down to 1 percent. These oils also offer lower saturated fat levels compared to other popular replacements, and high-oleic oils offer the added benefit of increased levels of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Since these products begin at the seed level, it has taken some time to build up supply. However, John Beecher CEO of Qualisoy (, a soybean marketing group, estimated 400 million lbs. of low-linolenic oil was available after the 2006 harvest and more than 1 billion lbs. of the oil should be available to the market in 2007.

Another concern for those seeking to make products for the natural or organic sectors are genetically modified organisms. In response to this, Cargill has created a non-GMO version of its Clear Valley high-oleic canola and sunflower oils. In addition, the company adds natural antioxidants such as rosemary and ascorbic acid to increase stability rather than synthetics such as BHA, HT and PBHQ. Asoyia ultra low-linolenic oil also is non-GMO.

An option that is both naturally stable and low in saturated fat is Nexsoy by Nexcel Natural Ingredients ( Springfield, Ill. Using an expeller-extruder extraction method, Nexcel is able to create a soy product that has high levels of antioxidants and thus better stability.

Nexcel uses this process to produce non-GMO and organic oils primarily, however the process can be used on any bean including the "Roundup Ready" genetically modified soybean. "This is a good option for who need high availability but are looking for a naturally processed oil without chemical solvents and refining caustics used in typical soybean oil processing," says Rob Kirby, president.

Rice bran oil, another natural alternative, works especially well for frying because of its high smoke point and its low-linolenic, high-oleic ratio. "Rice bran is one of the healthiest replacements for trans fats, even more so than olive oil," says Kirk Scarborough, president of California Rice Oil Co. (, Navato, Calif. "It has the closest profile to what the American Heart Assn. recommends for a healthy heart. It also has more antioxidants -- olive oil has around 50 ppm, while rice bran has 2,500 ppm."


Talk to your oil suppliers

One of the most important things to keep in mind when going trans free is that removing trans fats is not just about swapping out one product for another. "There really is not a drop-in replacement. Rather than looking at just one ingredient, it's important to look at the system as a whole," says Bob Wainwright, technical director for Cargill's dressings, sauces and oils. "To get better functionality from a trans fat replacement you many need to tweak processes, formulations, order of ingredients, baker oven profiles or other variables."

Cargill works with its flour and ingredient partners to troubleshoot an issue. "Bringing other experts in can help you look at things from a different perspective. A lipid expert and a flour expert will see different solutions," he says. "For example, sometimes making a fat work better can come down to properly hydrating the dough, or other dough attributes."

Depending on what properties you want, oil manufacturers can help you achieve these. You want a higher melting point? They may suggest adding saturates. You want a longer shelf life? They may suggest adding antioxidants or using a low-linolenic option.

Something like shelf life can also come down to proper fryer management, including how often fryers are cleaned and oil filtration practices. Storage is also key, says Wainwright. Maintaining a bulk nitrogen atmosphere over the tank and low storage temperatures, as well as avoiding contact with pro-oxidants such as iron and copper, can extend shelf life significantly.


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