Instead of "How low can you go?" a slogan for oleic acid could be "Scale up to stabilize." Oils high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid, are stable, may resist rancidity and may extend shelf life.
"It is a good stable oil, a good all-purpose oil, and it does not require hydrogenation for frying," said M.K. Gupta, president and founder of MG Edible Oil Consulting International, Inc., Dallas. "You put that all together, and it’s a very attractive oil.
"You are hearing more about it because of trans fat. It is part of the trans solution."
Richard Galloway, staff consultant for Qualisoy, added, "Oleic is the most stable of unsaturated fatty acids."
Food processors recently have sought to lower the amount of saturated fat and trans fat in their products. Such a task may cause problems with stability and shelf life. Enter oleic acid. The soybean, canola oil and sunflowerseed industries all have spent research dollars finding ways to increase the amount of oleic acid in their oils.
The National Sunflower Association (N.S.A.), Bismarck, N.D., decided to change the fatty acid structure of sunflowerseed oil in the 1990s. The result was NuSun oil, which is less than 10% saturated fat and has oleic levels between 55% and 75%. NuSun was made available commercially in 1998. Nearly 10 years later, the N.S.A. estimated NuSun will make up 85% to 90% of the 2007 sunflower oilseed acres.
Sunflowerseed research continues, too. In August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced three new germplasm lines are available for breeding sunflower hybrids that will resist downy mildew and produce oil rich in oleic fatty acid.
The canola oil industry now offers a high-oleic oil that has no trans fat and is 7% saturated fat and about 70% monounsaturated fat. Dow AgroSciences, L.L.C., Indianapolis, offers Omega-9 canola oils and Omega-9 sunflower oils. The canola oils are 73.7% oleic acid, 14.8% linoleic acid and 2.5% linolenic acid with a total saturated fat content of 6.7%. The sunflowerseed oils are 87.6% oleic acid, 4.5% linoleic acid and 0% linolenic acid with a total saturated fat content of 9%.
Soybean varieties that may be used to manufacture mid-oleic soybean oil may be available commercially by 2010, said Mr. Galloway of Qualisoy, a collaborative effort to develop healthy soybeans and soybean oil. Qualisoy would endorse mid-oleic soybeans that have a minimum oleic acid level of 50%.
Qualisoy has reported grower acceptance of low-linolenic soybeans, which eliminate the need for partial hydrogenation and thus reduce the amount of trans fat in oils. The amount of low-linolenic soybean oil should reach 900 million lbs this year, up from 60 million lbs in its first year of 2005-06, Mr. Galloway said. Still, limitations exist on what applications may use low-linolenic soybean oil, he said. Oils higher in oleic acid may be needed.
Mr. Gupta said he will include a chapter about trans-fat free alternatives in his book "Practical Guide to Vegetable Oil Processing," which should be published next year. He received a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Florida in Gainesville and worked for Frito-Lay, Inc. for 11 years.
Mr. Gupta said a gap still exists between the supply and demand for oils needed to manufacture products free of trans fat. The gap may not close for another three to five years, he said.
Government assistance may help. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa introduced the Commodity Quality Incentive Program (C.Q.I.P.) in the Senate’s version of the farm bill. The C.Q.I.P. encourages farmers to try new oilseeds by providing payments to farmers who grow the new varieties.
In the case of low-linolenic soybeans, processors and elevators are paying a premium of about 60c per bu over the commodity price, but 60c may not be adequate to attract the volume of crops needed, Mr. Galloway said. Hypothetically under the C.Q.I.P., farmers might receive a premium of 75c per bu for growing new varieties, including mid-oleic soybeans. The market could provide 50c, and the C.Q.I.P. could provide the other 25c.
Taking action on trans fat
Government agencies and health organizations continue to act on trans-fatty acids. In Canada, a bill was introduced in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario on Dec. 5 to end selling food with trans fat in school cafeterias and ban junk food and trans fat in public school vending machines. Some foods that naturally contain small amounts of trans fat, such as beef, lamb and milk, would be exempt from the proposal.
The American Heart Association, Dallas, in November updated its Food Certification Program to include a trans fat criterion that becomes effective Jan. 1. It will be applied to foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Another
A.H.A. initiative, "Face the Fats" at www.AmericanHeart.org/FaceTheFats, is designed to help restaurant operators and other food service personnel in minimizing industrially produced trans fat in their products.
At least one industry observer wonders how high consumers’ demand for trans-fat free products will reach.
"Concern about trans fat is over," Harry Balzer, vice-president of the NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y., said Oct. 26 at the Worldwide Food Expo in Chicago.
Trans fat is another element the American public has sought to reduce in intake, joining cholesterol, sodium, sugar and carbohydrates, Mr. Balzer said. Consumers may move on to another element since they see no immediate effect by eliminating trans fat from their diets, he said.
According to The NPD Group, 41% of adults in 2006 had either read or heard "a great deal" about trans fats, which compared to 35% in 2005. Twenty-three per cent of adults were "extremely" or "very concerned" about trans fat in 2006, which compared to 20% in 2005. Mr. Balzer said 2007 surveys are showing awareness trans fat is starting to flatten.
According to "Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition 2007," a report sponsored by the United Soybean Board, 16% of 1,000 participants in a random survey perceived trans fat as healthier than saturated fat in 2007, which was down from 22% in 2006.
"Being aware and clamoring for a product are two different things," said Richard Galloway, a consultant for Qualisoy. "They are definitely aware. Consumers respond to no trans on the label.
"All that being said, I think it’s still more of a public health, politically driven change. That doesn’t mean it’s not good."
He added, "Food companies just don’t want any trans fat content on the labels of their products."
This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, December 11, 2007, starting on Page 35. Click