Sunflower oil
Beneficial traits include non-G.M.O., no phos and low saturated fat levels.

BISMARCK, N.D. —The traits of sunflower oil fit with certain targets of food manufacturers: non-hydrogenated, non-bioengineered/non-G.M.O. and low in saturated fats. Questions may surround supply, though. Large quantities of sunflower oil would be needed for use in products from multinational corporations.

Maybe the supply of sunflower oil never will reach that of other commodities like palm oil and soybean oil, but acreage may increase. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported sunflower plantings of nearly 1.7 million acres this year.

“So we are a smaller crop, but we could easily expand to 3 million acres in a short amount of time,” said John Sandbakken, executive director of the National Sunflower Association, Bismarck, N.D.

Farmers in the United States grow sunflowers from North Dakota down through Texas, meaning the other states of South Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

“They grow a variety of crops, and they rotate them,” Mr. Sandbakken said. “So the ability to increase acres (in sunflower) on an annual basis is there as farmers constantly add new crops into their rotations.”

John Sandbakken, National Sunflowers Association
John Sandbakken, executive director of the National Sunflower Association.

He added, “We’re definitely working on trying to build up our acreage base. As an industry we’re trying to work with more and more customers to build up demand for the oil. Obviously that would translate into more acres.”

Sunflower oil has both health and wellness and “clean label” traits in its favor. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fats. The saturated fat content of sunflower oil ranges from less than 7% to about 9%, Mr. Sandbakken said.

“If you’re below 7%, you’re kind of golden right now when it comes to the food processing industry,” Mr. Sandbakken said.

The industry is working on a sunflower oil that is 3% or less saturated fat, but that oil is a couple of years away from being commercially available, he said.

“The beauty of that oil would be that, based on the serving sizes that we use here in the U.S., if you use that (oil), you could label your product as being saturated fat free because it would be less than a serving size,” he said.

Two types of sunflower oil, a mid-oleic NuSun oil and a high-oleic oil, are commercially available now. NuSun works well in frying applications such as for potato chips or french fries. The oil’s fatty acid structure gives it a long fry life.


Sunflower area chart
U.S. sunflower area

“So obviously you get more bang for your buck,” Mr. Sandbakken said. “It’s just a very light oil, and it’s neutral in taste. If you’re making any type of food product that has any flavorings, it allows that food product to have its own flavor.”

The high-oleic oil works better in products needing a longer shelf life. For example, the oil may add stability to granola bars that contain ingredients that have a short shelf life. The high-oleic sunflower might need to be blended with other more solid oils, too.

“Being a neutral-type oil, you could blend it with any oil that you want,” Mr. Sandbakken said. “It’s not going to change that taste profile of the oil you are using.”

Being non-bioengineered gives sunflower oil a key clean label advantage.

“There are no G.M.O. sunflowers in the world,” Mr. Sandbakken said.

He added, “We’ve seen a lot of our demand come from that, where people are saying, ‘I don’t want a pho oil, and I don’t want G.M.O. I want an oil that will function well and give me that clean label.’ We fit in very well with that.”


|||SIDEBAR: Results show systems to reduce saturated fat work|||

Canola oil
High-oleic oils, including those sourced from canola and soy, are effective tools in eliminating phos.

Results show systems to reduce saturated fat work

While product developers face a deadline to rid their products of partially hydrogenated oils (phos), they also may seek to keep saturated fat content as low as possible. High-oleic oils, including those sourced from canola and soy, are two effective tools, according to recent studies.

The Food and Drug Administration in June 2015 ruled there is no longer a consensus among qualified experts that phos, which are the primary dietary source of industrially-produced trans fatty acids, are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for any use in human food. Companies have until June 18, 2018, to come into compliance.

Researchers from Minneapolis-based Cargill presented three novel approaches to reducing saturated fats in bakery applications, without the need for phos, during the American Oil Chemists’ Society annual meeting in May. The fat systems lower saturated fat levels by as much as 40% in shortenings, without compromising finished product attributes.

In one method, Cargill researchers replaced some of the traditional saturated fat with a blend of canola oil and starch.

“Canola oil was used as foundational oil because of its low saturated fat content, typically 7%,” said Bob Wainwright, innovation director for dressings, sauces and oils for Cargill and based in Charlotte, N.C. “This allows us to deliver the lowest total saturated fat content functional shortening possible. In addition, where higher oxidative stability is required, such as to deliver specified shelf life, high-oleic canola oil (which offers greater oxidative stability but equivalent saturated fatty acid content compared to commodity canola oil) is readily substitutable.”

In a separate study, Cargill researchers focused on controlling how fat solidifies. As fat cools, it forms crystals. The researchers found that by combining vegetable waxes and monoglycerides with canola oil and palm stearin, they could influence the size, shape and speed at which crystals form.

“Palm stearins (or palm hard fractions) allow us to build the required structure and body into a bakery shortening, thereby delivering the necessary functionality,” Mr. Wainwright said. “Such an approach also offers label appeal to the extent that ‘hydrogenated’ does not appear on the ingredient statement.”

A final approach explored using emulsions to dilute saturated fat levels. While water and fat naturally separate, Cargill researchers found a way to encase water droplets in shells made of monoglycerides and hard fats.

“Judicious selection of monoglycerides gives us the ability to influence the body, structure and crystallization attributes of bakery shortenings while contributing a very small increase to saturated fat content,” Mr. Wainwright said. “In addition, some consumers view ‘mono and diglycerides’ as more label-friendly alternatives than `hydrogenated.’”

Dow AgroSciences, L.L.C., Indianapolis, offers an omega-9 fatty acid canola oil that is high in monounsaturated fats, contains zero trans fats and a low amount of saturated fat. It may be integrated into existing operations and used in a variety of applications, including frying, baking, spraying, par-frying and in recipe applications. The omega-9 canola shortening blend may be interesterified or blended with another hard fat, and it may replace any conventional liquid oil 1:1 in a shortening blend.

In another test, Qualisoy compared pho soybean oil, a palm/soy blend, enzymatically interesterified (E.I.E.) conventional soybean oil and E.I.E. high-oleic soybean oil in donut frying. The E.I.E. high-oleic soybean oil, which has less saturated fat than conventional soybean oil, produced donuts similar in texture, interior grain, spread and height, and donut hole star shape and size to pho soybean oil.

Oil weeping was lowest with donuts fried in pho soybean oil and second lowest with E.I.E. high-oleic soybean oil. Oil weeping is when oil leaches out of the donuts providing an oily, possibly soggy, taste and mouthfeel.

Qualisoy, an independent, third-party collaboration among the soybean industry, expects supply of U.S. high-oleic soybean oil to reach 140 million lbs this year and 9.3 billion lbs by 2024.