Cooking oils evolution

by Jeff Gelski
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Since 2003, cooking oil manufacturers have sought to remove trans fatty acids from cooking oils, which has led to experimentation with alternatives to partially hydrogenated oils that contain trans fat. While they have achieved success in removing trans fat, users now may be dealing with other issues, such as a decrease in the shelf life of the oils and an increase in the oils’ saturated fat content.

Oils with high-oleic content, no trans fat and less saturated fat may sound like an answer, and canola oils and sunflower oils featuring those characteristics already exist. Now progress is being made to create enough supply of high-oleic soybean oil.

The search for alternative oils became a priority when the Food and Drug Administration in 2003 amended its regulations on nutrition labeling to require that trans fatty acids be declared in the nutrition label of conventional foods and dietary supplements sold at retail. The ruling went into effect on Jan. 1, 2006.

Scientific research has shown trans-fatty acids increase LDL or “bad” cholesterol while decreasing HDL or “good” cholesterol. The call for healthier oils, or those without trans fat, affected the food service industry as well.

For example, KFC Corp., Louisville, Ky., announced in 2006 that at all of its US restaurants (5,500 at the time) would transition to using cooking oil with 0 grams of trans fat. The company used a low-linolenic soybean oil to replace the partially hydrogenated soybean oil. In addition, in 2008, New York City completed the final phase of its trans-fat regulation, which required restaurants to clear artificial trans fat from all their menu items.

During those years food manufacturers moved away from using oils with trans-fatty acids and instead chose alternative oils, some of which, including some low-linolenic soybean oils, did not have the stability that was needed, said Amanda Rinehart, marketing communications manager for Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business.

“The oils were just going bad faster,” she said. When the oils broke down, they also tended to leave a “gunky” film on equipment, she said.

Plenish high-oleic soybean oil, which is in development and on track for commercialization, addresses those concerns. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2010 approved DuPont’s high-oleic soybean trait for cultivation in the US. Its oleic content is more than 75%, and its saturated fat content is 20% lower than that of commodity soybean oil.

“We’re really looking to ramp up in the next year or so,” Ms. Rinehart said of Plenish supply and availability.

Plenish oil may be fried at higher temperatures for longer periods of time, Ms. Rinehart said. She described it as “a workhorse oil.”

“Not all oils can get up to that temperature for that extended period of time,” Ms. Rinehart said. “They are going to break down.”

Plenish’s oxidative stability index (OSI) is more than 25 hours, she said. The OSI is the length of time an oil may be held at 246 degrees Fahrenheit (110 degrees Celsius). Ms. Rinehart said the OSI may range from 20 hours to 70 hours for partially hydrogenated soybean oil, which has trans fat, about 17 hours for high-oleic sunflower oil and about 12 hours to 17 hours for high-oleic canola oil.

According to Pioneer, Plenish high-oleic oil may be used not only as a fry oil but also as a grill oil, salad oil and liquid oil component. It may be used as a liquid oil component or stable base oil for the incorporation of solids into baked foods. Plenish may also be used as a spray oil for crackers, nuts and candies.

Ms. Rinehart said Plenish may be added to blends that include palm oil. The blend may have the same stability as palm oil but less saturated fat.

Stratas Foods, Memphis, Tenn., already offers Frymax Soy Supreme, a high-oleic oil, for use in the food service industry. While the breakdown of polyunsaturated fat causes polymerization, or “gumming,” along the edges of the fryer, the oil contains less polyunsaturated fat than traditional oil and high-oleic canola oil, which makes frying cleanup easier, according to Stratas.

Soybean oils evolve

St. Louis-based Monsanto, meanwhile, is awaiting USDA approval on its Vistive Gold soybeans that produce a high-oleic, low-saturate, low-trans-fat soybean oil.

While mainstream media has scrutinized trans fat over the past six or seven years, recent surveys are showing increasing consumer awareness of saturated fat, said Willie Loh, vice-president of marketing for Cargill Oils & Shortening. The company references a 2010 Health & Wellness Trends Report from The Natural Marketing Institute, Harleysville, Pa., that showed 56% of consumers said they would like to have less saturated fat in their foods.

Cargill, Minneapolis, has developed Clear Valley high-oleic canola oil with 4.5% saturated fat, which marks a 40% reduction in saturated fat. Customers of Cargill should have samples of the oil soon, Mr. Loh said.

Cargill also this year introduced Clear Valley 80 high-oleic canola oil for use in food products sold at retail. It has 0 grams of trans fat per 14-gram serving and is 7% saturated fat and 80% oleic acid. The oil has an OSI of 20 hours.

“With the highest level of oleic acid of all canola oils, and the highest level of oxidative stability among all high-oleic oils on the market, Clear Valley 80 canola oil is by far one of the most stable vegetable oils currently available, eliminating common flavor and shelf life challenges often associated with formulating with healthier fats,” Mr. Loh said when Clear Valley 80 was launched earlier this year.

Like their experiments in reducing trans fat, companies focus on quality before switching to oils that lower saturated fat content, Mr. Loh said.

“Nobody made a complete switch over until the flavor and texture were essentially transparent,” he said of oils that reduced or eliminated trans fat in products.

Canola, sunflower oil insight

Dow AgroSciences, Indianapolis, in 2006 launched Omega-9 canola oil.

“Food service operators and food manufacturers alike struggled to identify nutritionally superior replacements that could cost-effectively provide the structure, taste and shelf-life functionality of trans fats,” said David Dzisiak, commercial leader of Grains & Oils for Dow AgroSciences. “Blending fully hydrogenated fats with liquid oils proved to be one strategy while the use of more stable vegetable oils proved to be another. Omega-9 oils provide enhanced stability through traditional plant breeding vs. biotechnology.”

This year, the company announced its new Omega-9 sunflower oil that may be labeled as saturated fat-free, an industry first, according to Dow AgroSciences. It is 92% oleic acid and has an OSI of 23 hours.

“Omega-9 sunflower oil will be available for sampling in 2012,” Mr. Dzisiak said. “Food companies should begin R&D testing to guarantee supply for 2013-14 as Omega-9 sunflower oil will begin commercial field production in 2014.”

Now that innovation has gotten most of the trans fat out of oils, reducing saturated fat and increasing functionality appear to be two main goals for 2011 and beyond.

“Structuring components are critical to achieving functionality in finished food products,” said Roger Daniels, director of research and development for Bunge North America, St. Louis, Mo. “The key learning from the trans fat exercise is that structuring components, while they are principally derived from saturates, is more about the quality of the saturate than the quantity.

“Matching up the correct post blend crystallization process with an optimized vegetable oil/structuring fat blend is the key to achieving the desired customer benefits of taste, quality and convenience.”

Ms. Rinehart said, “In the next five years you’ll just see high-oleic soy really ramping up and getting to a quantity where most companies can make that switch. That’s the new oil that’s probably on the horizon for five to 10 years or so.”

For another innovation, Cargill is working on a stir-fry salad oil with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, Mr. Loh said. It is a blend of canola oil and flaxseed oil, which includes alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Cargill has found a way to keep the flaxseed oil from going rancid, he said.

The new oil contains up to 30% ALA and provides a minimum of 165 mg of ALA in most applications. The stir-fry oil would be just for food service, he said.

As government regulations focus on restaurants listing calories for menu items, another potential oil innovation may focus on reducing calories, Mr. Loh said. Right now, replacing saturated fat in oils with a healthier monounsaturated fat has no effect on the caloric value. Research in the future may focus on replacing part of the oil with some element that leads to a reduction of calories while the combination of the oil and the element still behaves like oil, he said.
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