There's no denying the landscape for fats and oils in the baking and snack food industries has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. But what will it look like in another 10? The future according to John Jansen, regulatory, quality and innovation, Bunge North America, St. Louis, MO, has a distinctly utopian feel.

"The next generation of fats and oils is probably best referred to as 'tailored triglycerides,' " he said. "The frontier is going to, in the year 2020, basically matching your genome, your body type, to a specific type of fat that's created to best enhance your body's metabolism and your body's needs for specific fats and oils."

This development is linked to the company's efforts in mapping the human genome, which allows scientists to measure individuals' tolerance of certain foods based on factors including ethnic background, lifestyle and overall diet. "Certain people can eat a diet rich in fat all day long and it's never going to bother them," Mr. Jansen explained. "Basically, they're just immune to the conglomeration of artery-clogging activity that you'll see many times with a calorie-dense diet. Other people have extreme problems with that issue."

The work by Mr. Jansen's colleagues including Mark Stavro and Dilip Nahkasi, he said, uses interesterification to create fatty acid profiles that don't exist today but that could meet the nutritional needs of specific body types individually.

Before the industry gets to that level of personalized fatty acids, however, some other developments are closer at hand. Several organizations including the Canola Council of Canada, Winnipeg, MB; Cargill, Minneapolis, MN; Dow AgroSciences, Indianapolis, IN; and DSM Nutritional Products, Columbia, MD, are exploring ways to incorporate long-chain DHA and EPA omega-3 fats, which are naturally found in algae and seafood.

"These types of omega-3s have proven health benefits — from increased heart protection to improved immune function — that would create value-added canola oil," said Cory McArthur, vice-president, market development for the Canola Council of Canada. "Already in the retail marketplace is a DHA-fortified canola oil for consumers. Such health-oriented specialty oils could be incorporated into food products to offer additional labeling claims of 'good source of omega-3 fat,' etc."

DSM Nutritional Products developed life'sDHA, a DHA omega-3 oil derived from marine micro-algae, which the company manufactures and ferments in a tightly controlled environment. "The use of DSM’s algal oil has the capacity to be used in food fortification without compromising the sensory attributes of the final product," said Ruben Abril, director, international ingredient formulations and technical support for DSM. "Bakery products such as breads, pastries and tortillas are the products that are more suited to be fortified with our ingredient."

Of course, marine sources of fats have their limitations. Beyond the potential for off-flavors if they're not properly managed, marine oils tend to be unstable and costly, and their appearance on product labels could create hesitancy among consumers who demand clean labels. "We have a customer that says, 'Look, that fish oil, I can't put that into my food. That can't show up in my ingredient statements.' " said Willie Loh, vice-president of marketing, Cargill Oils & Shortenings.

Genetically modifying plants such as canola to produce these fatty acids could be an answer. "It's got a much better taste profile and it's much more cost-effective [than marine-based sources]," said David Dzisiak, global commercial leader, grains and oils, Dow AgroSciences. "So we can produce that at the cost of vegetable oil versus what fish oil might cost or what some of these fermented oils might cost. And it's also much more sustainable."

Cargill recently announced a partnership with BASF Plant Science, Limburgerhof, Germany, to develop highly stable oils and shortenings using long-chain omega-3s. A press release from Cargill cites the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey's findings that EPA/DHA consumption in the US is less than 185 mg a day. "Health experts in various countries recommend intake of 250 to 500 mg per day for positive health benefits from EPA/DHA," the company stated.

The collaboration will address shelf stability and cost for companies looking to incorporate omega-3s into consumer products.

Whether or not the industry ever gets to the level of customized triglycerides that Bunge's Mr. Jansen envisioned, it's clear the future is bright for fats and oils.