The American Palm oil Council (www.americanpalmoil.com), Torrance, Calif., points to palm oil as a solution to the trans fat dilemma. Not only is it naturally trans fat-free, it’s rich in valuable nutrients. Palm oil is derived from the fleshy fruit of the oil palm. The virgin oil, about 50 percent saturated fat (mostly palmitic acid and not considered an elevator of blood cholesterol) and rich in oleic acid, is bright orange-red due to the high content of beta-carotene. It resists oxidation and can withstand prolonged elevated temperatures due both to the absence of linolenic acid and presence of additional natural antioxidants, such as tocotrienols and vitamin E.
These traits have made palm oil the choice of many manufacturers and end-users around the world who incorporate it in their frying oil blends or use it as a 100-percent replacement for hydrogenated oils. Its fatty-acid profile makes it a natural for bakery applications and margarine production, where avoidance of trans fats is key to attracting customers.
There are different types of palm oil. It’s derived from both the pulp of the fruit and the seed kernel. Both palm oil and palm kernel oil can be further fractionated into olein (more liquid) and stearin (more solid) fats.
Thirty years ago, few people were interested a new soy oil. The standard stuff was doing well. Then the trans fat hit the fan and suddenly decades of research by agronomists and food scientists at Iowa State University became very important, for it culminated in soy oil with a mere 1 percent linolenic acid. Regular soybean oil contains approximately 7 percent linolenic acid.
Once the genetic fraction affecting fatty acid production in soybeans was identified, through careful breeding (and using no genetically modified organisms), an ideal soy oilseed for food processors was developed. Asoyia, the company that grew out of the Iowa Quality Agricultural Guild, sells the innovative soy oil and guides the process from ground to bottle. The company is actively recruiting more farmers to grow the new soybeans to meet demand for this unique oil.
“Naturally altering the fatty acid profiles of food oils can create healthier products that are lower in trans fats and saturated fats that are more acceptable to heart-healthy conscious consumers,” says Greg Keeley, CEO of Asoyia LLC (www.asoyia.com), Iowa City, Iowa. Asoyia also is developing an ultra low-linolenic acid, high-oleic specialty oil.
”Specialty soybeans and other oil producing seed varieties will become the norm in the future,” adds Keeley. “Vegetable oils that are bred to reduce rancidity and improve health profiles will be the mainstream of food oils that are necessary for food processing and restaurant applications in the future.”
Solving the technical challenges
Turning to new oils doesn’t solve the entire industry’s dilemma. So entrenched are hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils in the food supply that replacing them requires solving certain technical problems.
“Partial hydrogenation of vegetable oil results in the improvement of the oxidative stability and functionality of the vegetable oil,” says ADM’s Tiffany. “It also modifies the melting properties of vegetable oils to make them suitable for many food and industrial applications.”
ADM offers a complete line of low-trans alternatives under the NovaLipid trademark that meet the FDA guidelines for “0g trans fat per serving.” They include naturally stable oils, trait enhanced oils, palm blends and enzymatically interesterified soybean oil.
Interesterification rearranges the fatty acids in soybean oil by blending saturated fats with unsaturated oils to achieve specific functional attributes. The process is controlled either chemically or enzymatically.
“The enzymatic rearrangement process creates the functionality needed for various applications and with soybean oil as the liquid component. The level of polyunsaturated fatty acids is significantly increased compared to the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil that is being replaced,” says Tiffany.
Products in the NovaLipid line include shortenings and margarines based on enzymatic interesterification of soybean oil and fully hydrogenated soybean oil (complete saturation with stearic acid making up about 88 percent of total saturates). Stearic acid, though a saturated fatty acid, is considered neutral in its influence on risk factors associated with coronary heart disease, according to the American Heart Assn. and the World Health Organization.
“One needs to consider the complete balance of fatty acids present in low trans alternatives being offered and not focus on the source of oil or fat used in their formulation,” says Tiffany.
In the oven
“The bakery category is perhaps among the most technically challenging for conversions because of the vital role shortenings play in finished goods,” says Bob Wainwright, technical director for Cargill Dressings, Sauces & Oils (www.cargill.com), Minneapolis. Structure, body, creaming, aeration, shelf life, texture, geometry and oil migration are all critical roles played by solid shortenings, he explains.
Delivering functionality and optimal performance is a creative process that involves balancing ingredient interactions, process controls and formulations and recalibrating these variables to derive new shortening systems.
“Cargill has a broad portfolio of ingredients that addresses both nutrition and/or functionality,” says Wainwright. “For example, TransEnd brand is a zero-trans solid shortening developed for the manufacture of pastries, biscuits, crackers, pie crusts and dry mixes. TransEnd delivers similar functionality, mouth feel and shelf life stability of conventional all-purpose shortenings, but with about 1 percent trans fats and only 20 percent saturated fat content,” explains Wainwright.
“We partner with major bakery customers everyday and can support them with a variety of solutions based on the goals they have for their brands,” continues Wainwright. “Because of this partnership approach, some solutions are readily available. Brand names include: Preference salad and cooking oils; Advantage, Clear Valley and Odyssey high stability oils; TransAdvantage shortening systems and flakes; and Stable Flake and Regal Flake flaked fat systems. We can come up with solutions that we don't even know exist.”
For many applications, non-fat ingredients can provide characteristics that eliminate the need for trans fats. Methocel-brand food gums, from Dow Wolff Cellulosics Food & Nutrition (www.dow.com), Indianapolis, are a family of water-soluble gums made from natural cellulose. As a substitute for trans fats, they are non-caloric, virtually colorless, odorless and tasteless in food formulations.
The gums serve as binders, emulsifiers, stabilizers, suspension agents, protective colloids and thickeners a combination of properties unique among food ingredients. They also are resistant to high shear, low pH, and maintain stability after freeze-thaw and heating conditions. When heated, they produce a gel that does not release oil or water.
These properties make Methocel ideal for meat applications like sausages, frankfurters and veggie burgers. The same is true of processed baked goods. For cookies, muffins, cakes and crackers, emulsions made with Methocel allow healthier oils to replace those containing trans fats, while also imparting improved texture, moisture, uniformity and crumb structure.