Fats and Oils: Generation Next

by Laurie Gorton
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Although not yet commercialized, a new generation of soybean oils — this time with high-oleic content — is poised to make yet another change in fatty acid profiles and functionality in baked foods and snacks. But plenty of progress also is occurring with shortenings and frying oils that have immediate market availability.

It’s hard to imagine a basic category of bakery ingredients that has changed more than fats and oils. The big move out of animal fats into vegetable oils during the 1970s was only the tip of the iceberg. Today, choices on the plant-source oil menu encompass liquid and plastic shortenings far better suited to the healthy eating trend than any products before them. Whether produced by blending or breeding, the new oils eliminate trans fat, reduce saturated fats and bring omega-3 fats into everyday products. High-oleic oils are set to further improve stability and shelf life, a path blazed by low-linolenic styles a few years ago.

“There’s been a lot of activity in oils, especially with formulations using high-oleic/low-linolenic canola oil and high-oleic/low-linolenic soybean oil” said Tom Tiffany, manager, oils and fats, R&D food applications, ADM Oils & Fats, Decatur, IL. “It’s very exciting, as are the challenges to make improvements to blends to lower saturated fats without sacrificing functional benefits.”

Nutritionally better fats and oils hold great promise. “It opens the baking industry’s products to a whole new market of informed consumers willing to spend extra on healthier products,” said Ernesto Hernandez, PhD, director of process development, OmegaPure, Houston, TX.

APPROVAL PIPELINE.

Two new soybean varieties have almost finished the regulatory approval process required of genetically modified (GM) crops. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) granted approval in June 2010 to Plenish high-oleic soybeans, a project of Pioneer Hi-Bred, Johnston, IA. Its review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was done in 2009. Vistive Gold, a low-saturate, high-oleic soybean developed by Monsanto Co., St. Louis, MO, completed its FDA biotechnology consultation in January 2010, and its USDA petition is currently under review. The oils extracted from these new soybeans have been self-affirmed with FDA as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), thus allowing them to be tested in foods ahead of full commercialization, expected in 2012, pending full regulatory approvals.

In a related development, Monsanto and Solae are collaborating on a new omega-3 oil for food: Soymega, the world’s first stearidonic acid (SDA) soybean oil. FDA GRAS notification has been successfully completed in 2009, and commercialization is anticipated around 2012, pending regularory approvals, according to Al Gallegos, business development director, Solae, LLC, St. Louis, MO.

“The food industry needs fats and oils with positive flavor and mouthfeel, extended shelf life, healthful nutritional profile, surety of supply, easily discovered price structure, affordable price and multiple suppliers,” said Richard Galloway, president, Galloway & Associates, Isle of Pines, SC, a staff consultant for Qualisoy, St. Louis, MO.

Plenish and Vistive Gold are trait-enhanced soybeans, supported in their development by Qualisoy, a collaborative project of the soybean industry formed by the United Soybean Board, St. Louis, MO.

“Why put such traits into soybeans?” asked Susan Knowlton, PhD, research scientist, Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, Wilmington, DE. “It’s because soy is grown on more acres than any other US oilseed crop. Not only is it a lower-cost oil, it also naturally contains antioxidants that lead to its stability. And it is a preferred flavor among US consumers.”

Specifically, the trait enhancement raises the level of oleic fatty acids and lowers the linolenic content, thus increasing the oil’s proportion of stable fatty acids and cutting the less stable ones. This change aims to eliminate the need for partial hydrogenation to protect oils against oxidation and, thus, formation of trans fats.

Current commercial options for cutting trans fats in shortenings are palm and high-oleic canola oils, according to Mr. Galloway. Sunflower oil is also used. “I don’t see the new oils replacing canola and sunflower, but other oils with less desirable properties,” he observed.

Plenish has agricultural approvals from regulatory agencies in North America as well as Australia and New Zealand, among others. “We anticipate commercilization in 2012,” Dr. Knowlton said.

Monsanto noted that approval of Vistive Gold in North America is expected within the next year or two, pending full approvals. “Things are happening,” said Rick Wilkes, food applications director, Monsanto Co.

Testing in foods is what’s happening now. “Testing can be a long process,” Dr. Knowlton observed. “People should be thinking applications today because of the long lead times involved, not only on supply but also to understand the oil’s properties.” This is true for bakeries and food manufacturers as well as food service users, who need to qualify the fry oils in their operations.

Bakers face a very real challenge, according to Don Banks, president, Edible Oil Technology, Dallas, TX, a consultant to Qualisoy. “To make various items, bakers have long used one or two multipurpose shortenings, the so-called all-purpose shortenings, made with partially hydrogenated oils,” he explained. “Now, they want trans-free products that directly replace the partially hydrogenated shortenings, and they want the cost, functionality, performance and so forth to remain the same.” The trait-enhanced soy oils developed through Qualisoy efforts address the need for fats and oils with low-linolenic, low-saturate and high-oleic content.

IN THE MARKET.

New oilseed varieties developed through conventional plant breeding techniques do not face the same regulatory hurdles as GM plants. Such non-GM vegetable oils are also making news.

The oils extracted from Nexera canola and sunflower hybrids, developed conventionally by Dow AgroSciences and grown under identity-preserved (IP) contracts with farmers in Canada and North Dakota, are high in unsaturated fats. The company branded the oil as Omega-9 to call attention to its high monounsaturated fat content, according to David Dzisiak, commercial leader, oils, Dow AgroSciences, Indianapolis, IN.

“We are an agricultural sciences company,” Mr. Dzisiak explained. “When trans fat labeling hit in 2005, we evaluated alternatives. Through plant breeding, you can change the fatty acid profile and create naturally stable oils that don’t need hydrogenation.” His colleague, Dave Booher, group leader, healthy oils, observed that canola is North America’s second most widely used food oil.

The newest addition to Cargill’s Clear Valley line is a low-saturate canola oil. “Through plant breeding, we brought canola from 7% saturates to 4% saturates,” said Lorin Debonte, PhD, assistant vice-president, R&D, Cargill Specialty Canola Oils, Wayzata, MN. “We will be able to use it as a liquid oil and to blend bakery shortenings.” Samples are available for prototype work, and full commercialization is projected for 2014.

Described as the next generation in cooking oils, high-oleic non-GM canola oil marketed by SK Food International, Fargo, ND, allows longer fry times and extended shelf life, according to LeAnn Hovdenes in business development with SK Food. It is expeller-pressed, a process that does not use solvents or chemicals. The company recently added US-origin, IP, non-GM corn oil.

“Customers are becoming increasingly aware of product origin and want more information about content and production methods,” Ms. Hovdenes said. “They also want assurance that product identity and characteristics have been preserved for full traceability.”

Nutrisun, a non-GM sunflower oil with high stearic and oleic content debuted in mid-2010. Developed by Advanta, Mar del Plata, Argentina, in conjunction with CSIC Spain in Madrid, Spain, the new sunflower variety grows in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and South and North Dakota. It is marketed in the US by Technology Crops International, Winston-Salem, NC. “This innovative oil suits the needs for foods that require use of stable fats,” said Alice Coram, a spokesperson for Technology Crops.

OPERATING BENEFITS.

The next-generation oils are moving forward with applications. The first marketing program for Monsanto’s Vistive Gold targets healthy frying. The FitFrying partnership addresses food service issues and brings together Bunge, Monsanto and Qualisoy among its partners, as well as Frymaster, Lamb Weston, Alconox and the Idaho Potato Commission.

“We are thrilled to be part of this partnership that represents the entire value chain from seeds to fryer equipment,” said Philippe Ballet, food business development director, Monsanto Co. “It all begins with the seed. We can put a lot of technology up front in order to provide a better fried food. Testing has demonstrated the oil to have excellent stability and flavor. Tested with french fries, saturated fat content was significantly reduced.”

Vistive Gold oil contains 68 to 74% oleic acid, with saturates reduced from the 15% typical of commodity soy oil to 6%, and most of that is palmitic (75% reducttion), according to Mr. Wilkes. The result is an oil that can replace trans fats and provide benefits such as reduced saturated fat and as stability, particularly important in the production of french fries, potato chips and donuts. “Its stability fights fat’s tendency to polymerize in the fryer and, thus, solves operational problems, too,” he noted.

Stability against oxidation lengthens the life of fry oils and finished foods. The lower the linolenic content, the more stable the oil. Partially hydrogenation increases resistance to oxidation, but greater natural stability of high-oleic oils eliminates that need.

“Plenish high-oleic soybean oils exhibit greater fry life, up to three times longer than commodity oils,” Dr. Knowlton reported. “As for consumer benefits, it has 0 g of trans fats, 20% less saturated fat than commodity soy oils and 75% less saturated fat than palm. We’re really excited about this oil and hope the industry will be, too.”

Dr. Knowlton said that Plenish is being evaluated as a potential base oil for shortenings that could be blended with solid fats such as cottonseed or palm to achieve the desired plasticity. “With high-oleic oils, you can create shortenings with lower saturated fat levels than with palm alone and thereby provide a shortening product with longer shelf life in the end product, as well as the nutritional advantages of a low-sat shortening,” she said. Additional uses include high-stability spray oils for crackers and pan-release oils.

OMEGA-3 CONTENT.

Oils high in SDA address the nutritional need to increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Although soybean oil contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3, the lack of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — both polyunsaturated omega-3s — in contemporary human diets prompted the Monsanto-Solae Soymega project to develop soy oil with SDA. The body rapidly turns SDA, an intermediate between ALA and EPA, into EPA.

Soymega oil will find use in baked foods and snacks either as a direct ingredient in formulations or in the form of margarine or shortening. “SDA oils compare favorably with other omega-3 oils in taste and are easier to incorporate into foods than DHA and EPA,” Mr. Gallegos said.

“Soymega is a great solution for food companies that want to add omega-3s to everyday foods, including bakery products, and provide consumers with more options to get omega-3s into their daily diet,” observed Jane Whittinghill, senior research investigator, analytical science group, Solae, LLC.

Omega-3 content is the main feature of another new Clear Valley oil from Cargill. It blends high-oleic canola and flaxseed oils and is suitable for cookies, crackers and chips. “It can be used at rates to justify ‘good’ (160 mg per serving) and ‘excellent’ (320 mg per serving) claims for omega-3s,” Dr. Debonte said. “Consumer awareness of omega-3s allows food processors to sell more and charge more.”

Pioneering DHA applications in foods, Martek Biosciences Corp., Columbia, MD, is seeking larger-scale applications for its life’sDHA such as bakery. “We’re currently working with Dow AgroSciences to develop a canola seed that produces DHA,” said Christine Bunting, director, applications and technical service, Martek Biosciences.

Fish oils, the conventional source for omega-3s, are being improved, too. “Development of new antioxidants for our fish oil allowed us to efficiently blend it with baking fats and be able to withstand oven temperatures to produce a wide variety of baked products,” Dr. Hernandez said. OmegaPure fish oils can be added through blending with the other fats, put into the baked product premix, encapsulated or blended with milled flaxseed or incorporated into pre-made inclusions.

BLENDED TO PERFORM.

During the past decade, fats and oils producers have learned to skillfully blend oils from different sources to meet the functional and fatty acid profile needs of bakers.

To effect nutritional improvements such as elimination of trans fats and hydrogenation, Loders Croklaan developed shortenings that also reduce saturated fats, total calories and calories from fat, with bakery applications in mind. “In addition to the nutritional benefits, all of the products provide excellent performance where a solid fat is required for functionality,” said Gerald McNeill, PhD, vice-president, R&D and marketing, Loders Croklaan North America, IOI Group, Channahon, IL. “In most cases, there is no cost increase, and some of the products provide a significant cost reduction.”

The company’s SansTrans VLS 23 shortening blends canola, palm and palm kernel oil. Dr. McNeill explained that palm kernel oil contains only 23% saturated fat, compared with 50% in palm oil, and is semi-solid and functional in cookies and crackers. SansTrans VLS 30 and VLS 40 provide a 15% fat reduction without the need to extensively reformulate cookies, muffins and cakes. “Benefits include lower saturated fat, lower total fat and lower calories, as well as a cost saving of about 10% or more compared with standard all-purpose shortening,” he said.

The new Satin Glo line of liquid shortenings from Mallet & Co., Carnegie, PA, provides another good example. “We designed these to replace partially hydrogenated plastic shortenings, as well as palm-based shortenings,” said Bob Wilhelm, Mallet’s vice-president of R&D. “They are lower in saturated fats than other trans-free choices yet are functionally equivalent to plastic shortenings and consistent in performance in bakery applications. They allow cleaner labels and give similar outcomes to the shortenings they replace.”

Bunge employs enzymatic interesterification (EI) to modify soybean oils for its UltraBlends line of drop-in replacements for traditional shortenings and margarines. “Use them as you would a traditional margarine, shortening or fry product,” said Roger Daniels, director, R&D, Bunge Oils, Bradley, IL. “Actually, these products get the baker back closer [to the performance of fats and shortenings] of 30 years ago.”

Bill McCullough, director of marketing, Bunge Oils, explained, “The vision here is to reduce trans fats by using domestic soy oils.”

The company puts balanced blends of liquid oil and hard stock through its patent-applied-for oil purification step and subsequent EI process in a way that ensures consistent product characteristics in melting profile and basic quality attributes. Mr. Daniels said that EI randomizes the fatty acids present at triacylglycerols in positions No. 1 and No. 3 on the fat molecules. This method creates a wider variety of melting triacyclglycerides than previously present in the oil, thus giving the baker the appropriate hardness or stiffness in the dough for the intended end-use application. The process also enhances the plasticity range of the shortenings.

Ventura Foods uses domestic oils to produce NTrans, a no-trans, lower-saturates product, and the result is a shortening that adds only two ingredients to the package label, according to Frank Stynes, senior vice-president, industrial group, Ventura Foods LLC, Brea, CA. “We have spent the vast majority of our time on no trans, reduced saturates and generally cleaner-labeled products for our customers,” he said. “Because of the limitations of processing - in other words, no hydrogenation - these are not ‘drop in’ replacements. Some can be directly substituted, but some require customers to adjust their processes to use these products.”

A pioneer in the trans-free market, AAK, Port Newark, NJ, blends liquid oils (canola, soy and other sources) with a proprietary hard stock derived from palm and palm kernel oils, which are natural sources of solid fats. The resulting EsSence brand shortenings are trans-free, nonhydrogenated and low in saturated fat. The shortening range can be used in cookies, pie shells, biscuits, wafers and breakfast foods, and they are suitable as frying fats. The company developed a trans-free solution for laminated doughs and puff pastry, among the most demanding of baked foods applications.

As bakers begin to work with the emerging next-generation fats and oils, they can anticipate highly functional choices to replace the hydrogenated shortenings that have been so important to this category. Some will result from trait improvement through conventional plant breeding and biotechnology; others will come out of process innovations for modifying and blending today’s oils. But all will foster plenty of creativity.

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