MCTs: An Old Oil Is Taught New Tricks
A set of fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), whose unique physical and metabolic properties have long been recognized, is again gaining attention for the formulation solutions they provide.
MCTs are composed of caprylic (C8) and capric fatty acids (C10) derived from coconut or palm kernel oils that are heated, esterified with glycerin and deodorized. The end result is an edible oil that can be represented on a food label as caprylic/capric triglycerides; captrin or medium-chain triglycerides.
“A product called NEOBEE® M-5 was the first MCT, developed in the 1950s for applications in treating patients with fat malabsorption syndrome,” says Jim Butterwick, director of food and health specialties for Stepan Company (Maywood, N.J.). “It was determined, in constructing triglycerides from fatty acids, that they were metabolized by the body differently than long-chain triglycerides. And, along the way, it was discovered that MCTs also had some very attractive physical properties.” Here is a quick list of emerging applications:
Sports Nutrition. Foods and beverages for athletes are often in need of relatively low-calorie ingredients—compared to most fats—that provide quick energy with a bland flavor and little tendency to oxidize. Carbohydrates are one option, but MCTs provide another. Due to the uniqueness of how they are metabolized, MCTs deliver fewer calories than traditional fats—6.8 per gram, compared with 9.0 per gram. (Ranhotra, GS, et al., 1995. Cereal Chem. 72, 365-367.). When consumed, MCTs tend to be rapidly hydrolyzed, absorbed and burned.
Medical Nutrition. Due to ease of absorption, MCTs long have been used for enteral and parenteral nutrition for patients with various fat malabsorption syndromes, surgical patients and pre-term infants.
Reduced trans-fatty acid products. Their saturated fatty acid content means that although MCTs possess high oxidative stability, they do not contribute trans-fats to formulas. Their intermediate chain lengths mean they are “cholesterol neutral,” that is, have little effect on serum cholesterol levels (Hill, JO, et al., 1990. J. Lipid Res. 31. 407-416).
A new product—NEOBEE MLT-B—is being targeted as a substitute for partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in baking applications.
Healthy Cooking Oils. Forbes Medi-Tech, a Canadian company, has developed a designer oil using MCTs. Such customized products, formulated using MCTs and other types of oils, are in greater demand, Butterwick says.
Beverage Cloud. MCTs are slightly hydrophilic. This means they are somewhat soluble in aqueous solutions and can even provide some emulsification properties. Eastman Chemical Company (Kingsport, Tenn.) has recently introduced a new product—Sustane SAIB MCT—designed for beverages requiring a weighting agent with enhanced cloud properties. In addition, MCTs contribute no flavor, and have even found use as a carrier for flavoring systems.
Mineral oil-based food products. With mineral oil falling out of favor in such uses as a processing lubricant and as a mold release and polishing agent in hard candy production, MCTs may be an option. Butterwick says many European countries are banning mineral oil usage in food applications, a trend that may migrate to the U.S.
Bottom line, formulators may find that an old stand-by that provided solutions to many formulation problems may be even more helpful today.