Soybean, Canola Pace Specialty Oils

Advances in the two workhorses enable healthier food products.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

Asoyia oils in muffinsA 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.


High levels of oleic acid significantly increase an oil’s stability when used in frying and food processing applications. Products requiring high heat during processing will benefit from this oil due to a superior resistance to flavor breakdown. Other applications include spray oil for crackers, coating oil for baked goods and as a blending component for formulating numerous types of margarines and shortenings.

"This meets food industry needs and consumer demand for a soy-based trans fat solution," says John Muenzenberger, Pioneer business manager for specialty oils. "Plenish high-oleic soybean oil will provide the high stability and performance of partially hydrogenated oil that food companies need without the trans fat and with lower saturated fats."

Canola coming on strong

Canola is derived from rapeseed, which has been cultivated in Canada for less than 70 years. In fact, the name was coined in 1978 from "Canadian oil, low acid." Cargill develops, produces and markets high-performance canola oil for food processors and the foodservice industry.  The source of these premium oils come from proprietary canola seeds which the company contracts with farm producers in Canada to grow supply for the crushing and refining process.

"Canola oil has very similar functionalities to other liquid vegetable oils in general uses, has lower saturate fat than other vegetable oils [about 7 percent saturates vs. 14 percent in soybean oil, for example], which tends to be perceived by people as 'healthy,’ " says Linsen Liu, technical applications manager for Cargill Oils. "Comparable in cost to other vegetable oils, canola oil tends to have a premium over soybean oil," says Liu. "The benefits of lower saturates may or may not be meaningful for saturated fat labeling; however, having canola oil as an ingredient may attract the demographic users who prefer canola oil either for its flavors or 'healthy’ perception."

Liu shared the news that Cargill is developing a new specialty canola oil. "It is high-oleic canola oil under our Clear Valley brand that contains 4.5 percent saturate, which provides higher stability and lower saturate than generic canola oil," he says. "High-oleic canola oil is generally used in frying, baking and food formulation because of its high stability," and he notes it can lower the saturated fat of food products that previously had difficulty achieving that trick.

Bunge also is a fan of canola. The company developed NutraClear HS, derived from specially bred canola, which has advantages in both functionality and nutrition plus zero grams of trans fat per serving.

"NutraClear HS cooking oil helps keep foods tasting fresher longer, has a good shelf life and high stability during frying," says Roger Daniels, Bunge’s director of R&D and new business development. "It has low levels of saturated fatty acids and less than 4 percent of linolenic acid, and contains heart-healthy omega-9 fatty acids." While not all consumers are familiar with omega-9s, Daniels notes that recognition is growing.

"It naturally contains 70 percent oleic acid, which makes it high in monounsaturated fatty acids. In fact, it approaches the levels of oleic acid found in olive oil," he adds, noting the oil can be declared "high-oleic canola oil" on the label.

And in these environmentally conscious times, "Principally coming out of our Canadian facilities, the oil is very close logistically, making it easily available for processors," he says.

Daniels says it is suitable in any formulation where a liquid oil system is needed. It can be blended with harder fats, works well in salad dressings, spray oils and is outstanding for deep fat frying.

There is another Bunge oil that shows great promise in the fight against high cholesterol and obesity. "Delta SL is a blend of high-oleic canola oil and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs)," says Daniels. "We thinned it and added phytosterols, a cholesterol-lowering component derived from soybeans, which when consumed inhibits the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol.

"It stays in solution, has a lighter, cleaner flavor and lends itself to light frying, some baking and salad dressings," says Daniels. "It took 36 months to come to market because we wanted to be certain the science delivered on the intent – wellness and functionality.

"This is an oil tailored to meet specific nutritional needs. Our intent was to have a reduced-viscosity oil that would have a high concentration of phytosterols, whose nutritional benefits would be transferred to food. By reducing viscosity, we made it a tailored triglyceride that the body metabolizes differently than traditional fats. In fact, the oil inhibits the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol, and the MCTs allow the oil to be metabolized more quickly than other vegetable oils and as quickly as carbohydrates. That provides the opportunity for the body to utilize this energy rather than storing it in adipose tissues."

Delta SL has been clinically proven to help consumers reduce their low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels and help them maintain a healthy weight. Daniels adds that Bunge is working with food, nutrition, weight management and sports nutrition companies to explore possibilities and opportunities.

Food companies and supplier companies are working diligently to improve the quality and health attributes of our foods. Combating obesity and diabetes, and improving heart health are major challenges.

But as Cargill’s Liu points out, there is "no single magic oil" that can combat all these health related issues. "Saturated fat is only one piece of the puzzle, but a healthy life style, including exercise and total calorie control is very important."