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Soybean, Canola Pace Specialty Oils

Nov. 3, 2009
Advances in the two workhorses enable healthier food products.
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.

Cooking Oils Are Not Created Equal

All cooking oils are a combination of saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. It is the concentration of hydrogen that determines how they are categorized.

Saturated fats-- Found in animal products, they are converted into cholesterol by the liver. Butter, margarine, meats and dairy products are higher in saturated fat, which raise total blood cholesterol levels.

Unsaturated Fat  -- There are two types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats do not raise blood cholesterol levels. Canola and olive oils contain the highest proportion of monounsaturated fat, while safflower and corn oil are the highest in polyunsaturated fats.

Trans Fats -- Man-made or processed fats, which are made from liquid oil. When hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oil and pressure is added, the result is a stiffer fat, like the fat found in a can of Crisco. Trans fats are also called hydrogenated fats and are found in margarine and trans fat partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats pose a greater risk of heart disease than saturated fats (which were once believed to be the worst kind of fats). While it is true that saturated fats (found in butter, cheese, beef, coconut and palm oil) raise total cholesterol levels, trans fats not only raise total cholesterol levels, they also deplete good cholesterol (HDL), which helps protect against heart disease.

Refined Oils-- Extracted by solvent extraction for further refining in order to produce clear oil that is free from rancidity and foreign matter, refined oils are used as medium cooking oils (225°F to 350°F), high cooking oils (350°F to 450°F) and deep frying oils (greater than 450°F).

Unrefined Oils-- Processed by cold-pressed and expeller-pressed methods, unrefined oils carry the true flavor of the plant from which the oil is made. The strong flavor of unrefined oils may overwhelm the dish or baked good prepared with them; however, strong flavor is not always undesirable and some unrefined oils are used as flavoring agents.

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.

Pioneering Crisco Experiment And Beyond

Crisco maker Procter & Gamble (P&G), Cincinnati, was a pioneer in the emerging science of creating demand, according to historian Susan Strasser, who told Marketplace public radio the Crisco experiment started in 1911.

That’s when its scientists developed a cooking product made with cottonseed oil. This white, fluffy, partially hydrogenated (causing it to be solid at room temperature and thus mimic natural lard) substance, had no taste and no smell. It wasn't food, exactly, but the company encouraged consumers to bake and fry with it. Marketing scholar David Stewart says P&G's genius was not only giving people a convincing reason to try the product but training them to use it as well, with free cookbooks and recipes and information on how to cook with it.

"P&G marketers first focused on the health benefits -- recognizing this was a time we didn't know about transfat," said Stewart, "and between giving them a real benefit and information about how to use the product, they were able to get people to adopt it."

Crisco was the fat of choice until the '30s, when soybeans, an exciting new crop from China made its way to the U.S. Protein-rich and easier to use, the light tasteless oil was extremely high in polyunsaturates. Henry Ford established a soybean research laboratory, developed soybean plastics and a soy-based synthetic wool, and built a car almost entirely out of soybeans. But it was Roger Drackett, the Drackett Co. (maker of Drano and Windex), who invested heavily in soybean research seeing it as a smart investment. It was. World War II's shortages drove increased demand for soybean oil, which was used in the food industry in margarine, shortening, salad oil, mayonnaise and other food products. 

By the '60s health professionals began to make a clear connection between saturated fats and coronary heart disease, and advised against eating highly saturated animal fats and tropical oils. Sales of Crisco, and other saturated fats declined, and soybean oil became mom’s No 1 choice for cooking.

In the mid '70s, Canadian researchers cultivated a low-erucic rapeseed variety. Because the word rape was not considered optimal for marketing, they coined the name canola from Canada Oil. The FDA approved use of the canola name in January 1985, and U.S. farmers started planting large areas that spring. Canola oil is lower in saturated fats, and higher in monunsaturates and is a better source of omega-3 fats than other popular oils, and flavorless, (unlike monounsaturated olive oil).

As of Jan. 1, 2006, all food manufacturers were required to list the grams of trans fat per serving in a separate line directly under the saturated fat line on the Nutrition Facts labels.

Incidentally, Crisco, now a brand of the Orrville, Ohio-based J.M. Smucker Co., is now trans fat free.

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.

The Future of Fried Foods
Americans express a marked desire for healthy eating, and yet fried foods continue to hold their powerful appeal. According to Technomic’s Future of Fried Foods Study, over three-quarters of surveyed consumers label fried items as tasty, satisfying and a good value.

At the same time, United Soybean Board (USB) research shows that 87 percent of Americans express concern about the nutrition content of the food they eat. Three in four consumers have changed eating habits recently due to health concerns, and 50 percent believe in following a moderate fat diet but choosing "good" fats over "bad" fats. (Source: USB’s 2009 Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition study.) 

To bridge this gap, better-for-you ingredients such as enhanced trait soybean oils are available to food companies looking to produce fried foods with improved nutrition profiles. High-oleic soybean oils offer a solution for products requiring high heat during processing. This will especially benefit the frying and baking industries, which require high-performance oil.

Several other enhanced trait soybean oil varieties are expected in the coming years. Future trait improvements include high-stearic, low-saturate and increased omega-3 fatty acid soybean oils.

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."

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