A little fat plays an essential role in a healthy diet – as long as it doesn’t end up on our thighs. Fats are part of every cell in the body and are a valuable source of energy; they aid in the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K as well as beta-carotene; and they slow digestion so you feel full longer.
In fact, the USDA recommends fats should make up 30 percent of our daily caloric intake. Fats contain sterols, which assist hormone production and regulation and, evidence shows, aid in the absorption of calcium.
Soybean oil accounts for 79 percent of the edible fats used annually in the U.S., according to the United Soybean Board. Corn oil is a distant but significant second. But canola, which is high in monounsaturated fat, is gaining share. Other commonly used oils include cottonseed, flaxseed, palm, peanut, safflower, sunflower and olive oils. And, when a label reads "vegetable oil," it is a blend of oils including palm, corn, soybean or sunflower oils.
Since 1995, the global per capita consumption of oils and fats has risen from 15.6 to 23.4 kilograms per year, with vegetable oils assuming a larger percentage (82 percent, up from 78 percent) of total fat intake, according to St. Louis-based Bunge Oils (www.bunge.com).
Removing trans fats from formulations continues to be a challenge for food processors, but the edible oil industry has developed specialty oils and fats that not only substitute for unhealthy fats, but also enhance healthier attributes in foods.
Why soybean is No. 1
Interesterification has been used to manipulate fatty acids, moving them from one triglyceride molecule to another to improve certain traits of the oil. Interesterification may change melting points, slow rancidity or otherwise improve an oil for a specific application. But it’s a chemical process.
Archer Daniels Midland (www.adm.com), Decatur, Ill., developed an enzymatic interesterification process that it claims is preferable to the chemical interesterification process used to reduce trans fats. The oils are subjected to less severe processing conditions, which results in a more environmentally friendly process that also increases functionality. ADM claims to be the first and only food ingredient manufacturer in North America to use the enzymatic interesterification process commercially.
The result is ADM’s NovaLipid, a line of soybean oils and shortenings with zero grams of trans fat per serving. They’re especially suited for bakery applications, where this product can replace partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and still maintain the functionality needed for a wide range of products.
"Enzymatic interesterified shortenings and margarines utilizing soybean oil and fully hydrogenated soybean oil tend to be rich in stearic, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids," says Tom Tiffany, ADM Food Oils.
The American Heart Assn. indicates stearic acid may not affect or may even lower blood cholesterol. "When soybean oil is used as the liquid portion of the blend, the levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are also increased compared to palm oil or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils used for similar applications," adds Tiffany.
"ADM works with commodity oils, specialty oils and new technologies such as enzymatic interesterification to meet the challenges [of the food industry]," he says. "We also work with various life science companies to utilize trait-enhanced oils, which can be used alone or blended with other commodity oils to create viable solutions for applications that require a liquid or solid consistency, for use in a wide range of food applications."
"Many food scientists prefer using soybean oil for its relatively bland flavor and attractive fatty acid profile but have not been able to use it in applications needing high stability," says Beth Fulmer-Boyer, vice president-oil business for Asoyia (www.asoyia.com), Iowa City, Iowa.
Recently introduced, Asoyia Ultra Low Linolenic Soybean Oils are the first in the ultra low-linolenic category. This specialty soy oil contains 1.5 percent or less linolenic acid content, which enables them to remain stable two to three times longer than commodity oils and deliver longer fryer life with very little flavor transfer. Oils with higher levels of linolenic acid become rancid more quickly.
"Ultra low lin oil is best for use in those really tough formulations," says Fulmer-Boyer. "Food processors and restaurants that will benefit the most are those that need longer shelf and/or fryer life and a clean taste that won’t interfere with the desired flavor of the product."
Fulmer-Boyer also notes that Asoyia oils are available in natural varieties for natural food labeling. "Food processors looking for more natural choices can use Asoyia Ultra because it is available from non-GMO soybeans and also from extraction methods aside from the traditional hexane," she says.
Applications are numerous: cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, cereals, snacks, sauces, marinades, dressings, light butter spreads, non-dairy creamers, and toppings. It compliments finished and par fried products giving them a light crispy texture.
Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business based in Des Moines, Iowa, recently introduced Plenish as the brand name for its high-oleic soybean oil. Extensive testing in 2007 and 2008 revealed Plenish to contain about 80 percent oleic acid, the highest oleic oil content of any soybean oil under commercial development. Additionally, testing results find it to have more than 20 percent less saturated fat than commodity soybean oil and 75 percent less saturated fat than palm oil. Pioneer notes Plenish has the flexibility to be used alone or in combination with other oils to optimize cost, functionality and taste.