Eliminating partial hydrogenation

by Jeff Gelski
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Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Bentonville, Ark., wants to eliminate all industrially produced trans fat and partial hydrogenation from its products by 2015, according to plans released in January designed to provide healthier and more affordable food choices. The retailer’s goal may have food manufacturers wondering how to eliminate all partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from the shortenings in their products. They may find options in palm oil, oil blends and an enzymatic process called interesterification.

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils include trans fat, but some products that have partially hydrogenated vegetable oils on the ingredient list say “0 grams trans fat” on the Nutrition Facts panel. The situations arise because the Food and Drug Administration states products with less than 0.5 grams trans fat per serving must be rounded down to 0 grams on the Nutrition Facts panel.

American consumers may be more aware of trans fat than partial hydrogenation. According to the 17th annual survey “Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition,” issued by the United Soybean Board in 2010, 73% of Americans view trans fat as very unhealthy. By 2015, might consumers also be looking for partially hydrogenated oils on the ingredient list more often?

“Consumers tend to be confused about the role dietary fats play in their diets, and generally speaking the top two nutritional facts that influence purchase decisions tend to be calories and total fat,” said Marge O’Brien, insight manager for Caravan Ingredients, Lenexa, Kas. “However, in a recent omnibus study we found that trans fat was ranked as first or second in importance when making a decision on the groceries purchased by 19% of consumers.

“In addition, we found that almost 40% of consumers said the inclusion of hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in an ingredient panel for a food they were interested in purchasing was unacceptable.”

Palm oil, although high in saturated fat content, may serve as a drop-in replacement for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in shortenings. Last year Loders Croklaan, Channahon, Ill., launched a new line of SansTrans DF Select frying shortenings for donuts. The shortenings are non-hydrogenated and feature palm oil and soybean oil.

“Natural palm oil is an ideal replacement for partially hydrogenated vegetable shortenings because it is solid at room temperature, low-cost and highly functional,” said Gerald McNeill, vice-president of R.&D. for Loders Croklaan. “Global palm oil production is higher than any other vegetable oil and readily available throughout the world.”

A process called fractionation alters the physical properties of palm oil. It creates both palm olein, which is liquid at room temperature, and palm stearin, which is a hard waxy solid. The fractionation of palm oil may lead to an unlimited range of functional products for every application.

“The effectiveness of palm oil is due to the presence of palmitic acid, the most common natural saturated fat found in nature,” Dr. McNeill said. “This kind of saturated fat naturally forms small crystals that impart a smooth texture to the shortening and are very effective in trapping air — an important part of the creaming process.

“Stearic acid, the main saturated fat found in fully hydrogenated vegetable oil, tends to produce large crystals that entrap air less effectively and could impart a grainy texture to the shortening.”

While about 50% of palm oil is saturated fat, recent studies have taken a second look at how saturated fat may affect heart health. For example, a meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies involving 347,747 people was published last year in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It showed no significant evidence that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. The meta-analysis also found more data are needed to determine whether specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat may influence cardiovascular risks.

“As more data is published, the whole issue could be forgotten by 2015, bringing 50 years of irrational demonization of saturated fats to an end,” Dr. McNeill said.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans still recommend consuming less than 10% of calories from saturated fatty acids. The American Heart Association, Dallas, recommends a saturated fat level of less than 7% of calories per day. A desire thus remains to reduce saturated fat in shortenings while also leaving out partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Caravan Ingredients offers a Trancendim emulsifier as a structuring agent for oil that has been shown to create functional shortenings with a label declaration of vegetable oil and monoglycerides and diglycerides, said Larry Skogerson, vice-president, R.&D., for Caravan Ingredients. Saturated fat levels are between 25% and 50% less when compared to palm oil.

AarhusKarlshamn, which has a U.S. office in Port Newark, N.J., offers the EsSence line of bakery shortenings that are based on a blend of a liquid oil choice and a proprietary hardstock derived from palm and palm kernel oils. EsSence brand shortenings are free of trans fat, non-hydrogenated and low in saturated fats.

Many food applications rely upon the shortening component to convey body, texture, structure and related properties, said Bob Wainwright, technical service director, Cargill Dressings, Sauces and Oils. These situations require a semi-solid. Cargill’s Clear Valley shortenings and TransAdvantage shortenings are examples of structuring components blended with a liquid oil foundation to create the semi-solid.

Interesterification and natural semisolids such as palm oil are other options in creating shortening without the use of partial hydrogenation, he said. Choosing the right option depends on several factors.

“Economics, supply, ingredient legend, sustainability and nutritional profile are among considerations that are generally quite relevant,” Mr. Wainwright said. “Each circumstance is unique and is best addressed by deep dialogue between the customer and fat supplier.”

Bunge offers its UltraBlends enzymatic solutions products that may be free of partial hydrogenation while delivering 8% to 20% less saturated fat than palm oil, said Roger Daniels, director of R.&D. for Bunge. UltraBlends include interesterified soybean oil.

“However, the UltraBlends products are not the silver bullet for all applications,” he said. “They were designed to meet the needs of most general baking needs. The initial product offerings, being based upon soybean oil, have limitations on stability and shelf life. Specific needs of longer shelf life applications can be addressed via addition of antioxidants or incorporation of higher stability oils such as high-oleic canola.”

Dow AgroSciences, Indianapolis, offers Omega-9 canola or sunflower oil. The company offers customized oil, spray oil and shortening applications for baked foods, snacks and popcorn.

“Omega-9 Oils shortenings and other ingredient solutions are available now, allowing food manufacturers ample time to test new formulations,” the company said. “Dow AgroSciences is already working with multinational food companies to meet not only Wal-Mart’s goals, but also the food companies’ health goals to eliminate trans fat and significantly reduced saturated fat.”

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