NEW YORK — A recent proposed rule from the Food and Drug Administration has the food industry wondering about possible replacements for partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (p.h.o.s). Research at the City College of New York may offer hope.

George John, a professor of chemistry there, has led research that involves using derivatives of two polyols, mannitol and sorbitol, as gelation agents to transform vegetable oils into a semisolid form. Such technology may offer alternatives to using partially hydrogenated oils, which causes trans fat.

Theresa Cogswell, president of Baker Cogs, Inc., Overland Park, Kas., called the research a “fascinating concept.”

“At this stage of new technology, I have many more questions than answers, but it sounds hopeful,” she said.

Answers for p.h.o. alternatives became more crucial on Nov. 8, 2013, when the F.D.A. in a Federal Register notice said it believes partially hydrogenated oils no longer belong on the list of ingredients generally recognized as safe. If the F.D.A.’s preliminary determination is finalized, then partially hydrogenated oils would become food additives subject to premarket approval by the agency. Foods containing unapproved food additives are considered adulterated under U.S. law, meaning they cannot be sold legally.

Partially hydrogenated soybean oil and partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil both still are used in the processed foods industry.

The research in New York involved canola oil, olive oil, soybean oil and grape seed oil. Either sorbitol-derived product or mannitol-derived product was used as a gelator for oil at levels of 1% to 5%, thus potentially eliminating the need for partial hydrogenation and the creation of trans fat, Dr. John said.

Dr. John said the technology entraps the solvent, or the oil, in a way that is similar to how a sponge entraps water. He said the technology has worked in a laboratory setting but has yet to be tested on industry scale.

The research findings appeared in the Nov. 15, 2013, issue of theJournal of Agricultural Food Chemistry.