Health and wellness remains at the heart of oil innovations

by Keith Nunes
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A review of the recipients of the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual Innovation Awards during the past few years underscores the advancements that have been made in the development of oils and shortenings. During this past year’s convention, held in June in New Orleans, Loders Croklaan North America’s SansTrans VLS30 and VLS40 shortenings, which may reduce saturated fat content and calories in bakery and snack foods, garnered the company an I.F.T. innovation honor.

Both shortenings contain a fat-sparing emulsifier package that allows a reduction in use of up to 15% fat in applications that currently use an all-purpose shortening. Saturated fat is reduced up to 30% and fat content plus calories from fat is reduced by 15%. The products’ fat reduction does not alter the taste and texture of finished products, according to the company.

“This particular innovation provides support to the food industry as well as addresses the most vulnerable consumer, along with those who are more likely to indulge in baked items,” the Innovation Awards judging panel said. “This ingredient allows consumers some permissibility, while addressing the trans fat issue, as well as the reduction in fat in the formulation by as much as 15%.”

In 2010, Bunge North America, St. Louis, earned an Innovation Award for its Phytobake Shortening with Phytosterols. The shortening for bakery-related applications enables the dilution of the amount of traditional hard fat or saturates and trans fats used in the plastic shortenings by up to 46%. Bakers using the ingredient may produce healthier sweet goods, such as cookies, pie crusts, and cakes.

In 2008, Bunge North America also was honored by the I.F.T. for its Nutra Blanche/Nutra-Clear NT Frying System Solution & Donut Fry NT, which uses hydrogenation technology to reduce trans fats by more than 85% in shortening systems for par-fried potatoes and fried donuts.

At this year’s I.F.T., Bunge North America highlighted its Ultrablends Enzymatic Solutions, which use enzymatic interesterification to produce a line of soy-based shortenings and margarines to eliminate trans fat and optimize saturated fat. The company also exhibited its No Trans and Reduced Trans technologies as well as its Non Hydrogenated application, which allows manufacturers to remove hydrogenation from a product’s ingredient panel.

The amount of inno-vation taking place in the food category highlights how quickly oils and shortening manufacturers are adapting to changing consumer trends. During this year’s I.F.T., Dow AgroSciences, for example, introduced its saturated fat free Omega-9 Sunflower Oil. In addition to having zero trans fats, DowAgroSciences said the oil is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

Citing the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans call for an overall reduction in consumer intake of saturated fats and a 2010 Gallup Study for Healthy Fats & Oils that showed adults are making an effort to include healthy fats and oils in their diet, DowAgroSciences noted that its new oil is in line with emerging consumer trends. The company also noted that since the oil is sourced from its Nexera seeds, which were developed through traditional plant-breeding, the new oil will support a natural package claim for processors seeking to position themselves in that segment of the market.

Children’s ad proposal poses new test

The challenges facing oil and shortening manufacturers are not going to abate anytime soon. In addition to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, ingredient manufacturers are going to be challenged by proposals such as the Interagency Working Group’s initiative on food marketing to children. Under the proposal, all food products within categories most heavily marketed to children and teenagers younger than 18 should meet two criteria of being healthful and lacking ingredients that are unhealthful or fattening. Categories include breakfast cereals, snack foods, candy, dairy products, baked foods, carbonated beverages, fruit juice and non-carbonated beverages, prepared foods and meals, frozen and chilled desserts and restaurant foods.

To qualify as a food making a “meaningful contribution to a healthful diet” under the proposal, the food would have to contain contributions from at least one of the following food groups: fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fat-free or low-fat milk products, fish, extra-lean meat or poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds or beans.

With a few exceptions, such as the saturated fat and sodium naturally occurring in low-fat milk, foods marketed to children also would need to meet additional rules under the proposal, including 1 gram or less per reference amount customarily (RACC) served and 15% or less of calories from saturated fat, and zero grams of trans fats per RACC.

Willie Loh, vice-president of oils and shortenings for Cargill, Minneapolis, said the proposal has grabbed the attention of Cargill customers.

“The recent proposal has set a target and we are being asked to help our customers find ways to get the saturated fat of some products down,” he said.

Changing the conversation

During the I.F.T. Cargill introduced its Clear Valley 80 High Oleic Canola Oil, the latest addition to its line of Clear Valley brand of oils. Clear Valley 80 is a natural high-oleic oil that delivers the same nutritional benefits included in earlier variations of Clear Valley products, according to Cargill. It also has low levels of saturated fat, zero grams of trans fat per 14-gram serving and is a cost saving solution that Mr. Loh said offers sustainability benefits.

“If you look at the history of high-oleic oils you will see a consistent incremental increase,” Mr. Loh said. “We have 65, our competition has 70, 72, we introduced 75 and now we have Clear Valley 80. With these new generations of oils what you are seeing is an increase in stability. If you are using the Clear Valley 75 in a bar-type product then that item would last 12 months. With the Clear Valley 80 now the same item would last 18 to 19 months.”

Mr. Loh said the research community is starting to reach the biologic limits of fatty acid composition, but as research progresses they also are seeing improved jumps in product functionality.

“What we have done is significantly reduce polyunsaturated fat content down to the 10% range,” he said. “What we have found is the way stability works relates to susceptibility to oxidation. But the process is not linear; it tends to run in step changes. You hit a level and it doesn’t get much better after that. We are getting very close to what we think is the highest stability oil that may be achieved.”

Those functionality “jumps” Mr. Loh referenced are putting an increased focus on how next generation oils like Clear Valley 80 may affect industry cost reduction efforts.

“With the increased stability this new oil offers, what we are able to do now is go to customers and tell them they can save money by reducing the amount of packaging they use,” he said. “One of the most expensive ingredients for a food product is the packaging film. Much of that expense goes toward the amount of oxygen barriers that have to be put in place to protect the product.

“Customers are always interested in ideas that will help them reduce their costs and they are agnostic about the methods as long as the product can do it.”

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