Case-by-case replacement

by Jeff Gelski
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Comments from the medical field and results from consumer surveys continue to keep the heat on food processors to eliminate or significantly reduce trans fatty acids in their products. The solution will not be "one oil fits all," either. Each fried or baked food product may require a specific system of ingredient selection.

Every trans fat-free formula at Minneapolis-based Cargill is developed on a case-by-case basis with customers, said Wendy Erickson, a texturing expert in the baking area for Cargill.

"In every bakery application where fat is incorporated, it can be quite different from one application to another," she said. "In cakes vs. croissants, it’s vastly different what fat brings."

Surveys reveal consumers are more aware of trans fats. According to "2007 Food & Health Survey; Consumer Attitudes Toward Food, Nutrition & Health" from the International Food Information Council Foundation, 87% of Americans have heard of trans fats in 2007, up from 81% in 2006.

According to "Trans fat, then and now," a report released in August by The Hartman Group, Seattle, 94% of Americans have heard of trans fats, up from 83% in 2004. Today, 7% of the population said they believe trans fats are healthy, down from 14% in 2004. Consumers appeared more concerned with trans fats in packaged foods than in restaurant fare. Seventy-two per cent agreed with the statement, "Trans fats are a big problem in packaged foods," and 50% agreed with the statement, "I’m more concerned about trans fats when eating away from home."

The Hartman Group report said, "We are on the doorstep of a new era in how food products are made, marketed and sold, pushed there by consumers in their quest for higher quality food products and experiences so they can realize their overarching wellness goal to live the ‘good life.’ When looking through this lens, we can see there is no room for trans fat to exist in the marketplace of the near or distant future."

Walter Willett, an epidemiologist and nutrition professor at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, remains a proponent of a trans fat ban in America.

"Human life is more important than shelf life," he said at this year’s Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Chicago. "Food scientists are capable of creating products that are free of trans fat and still have shelf life."

While studies show the negative health effects trans fat has on cholesterol, replacing trans fat may have a negative effect on a product’s texture.

"When you look at trans fat solutions, you need to understand you only get solid fat from saturated fat or trans fat," said Lynne Morehart, technical service manager in the dressing, sauces and oils group for Cargill. "If you remove one piece of that, you are removing solid characteristics from that system. If you are removing some of the solid characteristics, you need to compensate in some way or another."

In cake batter, xanthan gum and hydrocolloids may increase batter viscosity, Ms. Erickson said. Emulsifying shortening may give aeration capability and may impact the viscosity of batter.

"It puts more air into the batter," Ms. Erickson said. "You can get by with a little less solid fat and add softness to the products."

Susan Kay, senior application technologist for bakery innovations at Danisco, Copenhagen, Denmark, gave a presentation on how emulsifiers may replace fat during the American Society of Baking’s annual technical conference in Chicago this year. Emulsifier oil blends may provide an advantage in that no hydrogenation or tropical fats appear on the label, she said. Disadvantages are lower solids content and limited oxidative stability.

Formulators should know whether emulsifiers have a high HLB (hydrophilic lipophilic balance) or a low HLB. Emulsifiers with a high HLB range love water. Those with a low HLB range love fat and are dispersed easily in fat or lipid systems, such as shortening, she said.

"Tailored emulsifier oil blends can allow the processor to maintain both capacity and performance along with a healthy label of minimized saturated and no trans fat," Ms. Kay said.

Cognis, Monheim, Germany, launched an emulsifier, Nutrisoft 55, this year. The distilled monoglyceride is based on partly unsaturated vegetable fat and contains less than 1% trans fat.

Besides the health benefits, the emulsifier may enhance the quality and appearance of food, according to Cognis. For example, when used in bread or yeast-raised products, Nutrisoft 55 interacts with the starch to improve crumb softness and increase bread volume. By stabilizing the helical structure of starch, Nutrisoft 55 slows the staling process and increases shelf life. For optimum results, Cognis recommends using the emulsifier in conjunction with an aerating emulsifier.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, September 18, 2007, starting on Page 56. Click here to search that archive.

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