The food industry has been attacked from many quarters for its role in the obesity epidemic, but is it the industry at fault? At the 2006 Annual Meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), keynote speaker Alton Brown of Food Network fame was asked if the industry and its foods were to blame. His response was along the lines of, “There are no bad foods, only bad parents.” This statement could well summarize the food industry’s position on products and product development. If a food product is selling, whether it is perceived as healthy or unhealthy, the company will continue to produce that food. It has the responsibility to make a profit for its owners and shareholders.
The food industry must be responsive to consumer preferences. According to data collected by Mintel International Group Ltd., new product trends related to fats and oils are as follows:
* The reduction of trans fatty acids in products.
* The reduction of saturated fats in foods.
* Incorporation of healthy oils into product formulations.
* Incorporation of heart-healthy components (e.g., omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants).
Perhaps surprisingly, even with the concerns about obesity, the number of new low- or reduced- fat products appearing in the marketplace has slightly declined in recent years.
Whatever the trends, certain characteristics of fats and oils affect how and where they can be used, and how they must be protected. These need to be taken into consideration when developing new products or reformulating old ones.
Trans Fat Reduction
Trans fatty acids, the majority of which are formed in edible oils during the hydrogenation process, have been the “bad actors” in recent years. Listening to media references of “artery clogging fats,” one could get the impression that they are the only contributing factor to cardiovascular disease. Such charges, however, have spurred food processors to reduce or eliminate these fats from their products.
If one were to walk through any supermarket to survey nutrition facts statements on products, the push to eliminate trans fats would be obvious, given the number of products with a “zero” trans declaration. Data from the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) in 2006 indicate that over 82% of consumers are aware of trans fats, and 52% are making an effort to avoid them. In October 2006, KFC announced it was replacing the oil used to fry its chicken and French fries with a zero trans product, making these two products trans-free. What was not trumpeted, however, is that its biscuits would still contain trans fats. A good-tasting alternative is yet to be found. McDonald’s also has publicly committed to reducing trans in their products, but has yet to do so because it cannot find satisfactory alternatives that will produce equivalent end products.
It may be useful to remember the great “oil change” in the late 1980s—when saturated fats were vilified, and the industry switched from cooking oils made from animal and vegetable oil blends to all-vegetable oils with trans fats. Saturated fats remain an evil in the eyes of consumers and health professionals. Animal fats from beef, pork and poultry are high in saturated fats, as are those from dairy products. Any fat/oil that is solid at room temperature, such as butter, has a significant degree of saturation.
In the late 1980s, not only were animal fats such as tallow and lard removed from many products, but palm, palm fractions and coconut oils, all dubbed “tropical oils” and also relatively high in saturated fat, suffered a similar fate. Often these ingredients were replaced with highly hydrogenated vegetable oils, returning developers to the trans fat issue.
Use of Healthy Oils and Additives
Consumers are learning certain oils are better for them. These include olive, sunflower, safflower, canola and a long list of specialty oils such as grape seed and those from tree nuts. These products all have significant levels of unsaturated fatty acids. (See chart “Fatty Acid Compositions.”) The United Soybean Board’s “Better Bean Initiative” has given soy oil a place with these products. Perceived as healthy, there is a push by both the restaurant and processed retail food industries to incorporate them into their products. Product developers are also incorporating perceived healthful ingredients such as antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
Difficulties in Eliminating Trans Fat
The primary challenge food product developers face is ensuring foods have the taste, texture and shelflife desired by consumers. Safety is mandatory as well. When trans fats are removed, the reformulated products do not always meet the previously established sensory parameters. The push to produce low- and no-fat alternatives to full-fat products has resulted in a great number of failures simply because the products did not taste good. This also may occur as companies scramble to get no- and low-trans products or those with “healthier oils” to the market place. Companies are in the “food business.” They must sell products to remain in business. Products that do not perform (e.g., have reduced shelflife or develop off-notes) or that simply do not meet consumer expectations end up costing the developer a great deal of money.
When formulating with fats and oils, some basics principles to remember include:
1. Certain types of products require the use of harder fats with higher levels of saturated fats. Examples include puffed pastries, croissants and pie crusts. One cannot make a quality product with traditional attributes if healthy, high-oleic liquid oils are used.
2. Alternatives to products containing trans fats are usually more costly, which raises manufacturing costs that are passed on to consumers.
3. Fats and oils are prone to oxidation. The potential for this increases as the degree of unsaturation in the oil increases. Ingredients such as omega-3 fatty acids fit into this category. Companies that market these items emphasize that they must be protected during storage and use.
4. Antioxidants can help protect products. The use of some of the most effective antioxidants such as BHA and BHT in “healthy oils” may be counterproductive, since consumers most attuned to nutrition also are more likely to have an aversion to synthetic additives. “Natural” antioxidants such as tocopherols, ascorbic acid, plant extracts (rosemary or sage oil) and some phenolic compounds may help protect oil and enhance its healthful image.
5. Substitution of low- or no-trans alternatives can significantly alter how a product tastes, its mouthfeel and its overall perception. Ironically, the push to eliminate or reduce trans fatty acids in foods has helped palm oil recover from its earlier tarnished image. It is a naturally harder fat, and some suppliers in the industry acknowledge that they are getting increased inquiries about palm.
It is important to remember that fats and oils have a wide range of roles in foods. Among the functions that various fat-based ingredients perform include:
* Emulsion formation, which is essential in salad dressings, certain beverages, sauces and many other products.
* Acting as a lubricant. Compare the mouthfeel of a baked versus a fried potato chip for a demonstrates this function.
* Possessing shortening power, which is essential in breads, pastries and cakes.
* Transferring heat. Frying oils are prime examples.
* Imparting and carrying flavors. Fats and oils absorb flavors and are used by flavor houses as carriers. On the negative side, they may absorb undesirable flavors, which can compromise the end product.
* Possessing various melting profiles so as to provide expected textures. Cocoa fat’s sharp melting point in chocolate provides a “melt in your mouth” sensation.
Each of these issues needs to be considered as part of the development process. The end user expects products to taste good, have the expected mouthfeel and texture and be satisfying. Consumers may be more health conscious, but they still want to enjoy eating. As an example, sales of low-calorie ice cream may be up, but the market for rich, full-fat products also remains strong. Higher-fat foods often are an indulgence and a pleasure.
www.PreparedFoods.com — Type “trans fat” into the search field on the home page to see archived articles on trans fat-reduced formulation tactics
www.aocs.org — American Oil Chemists’ Society; news updates relevant to the fats and oils industry
New Health Claims for Lowered Fats
The FDA announced in November of 2006 the availability of a new health claim regarding fat, trans fat, cholesterol and reduced risk of heart disease. The new claim states, “Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and as low as possible in trans fat, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
To display the claim, the foods must:
* Qualify as “low saturated fat” and “low cholesterol,” 21 CFR 101.62 (c)(2) and (3) and 21 CFR 101.62 (d)(2) and (3).
* Contain less than 0.05g of trans fat per RACC (reference amount customarily consumed) or an FDA definition of “low trans fat,” should one be established.
* Contain less than 6.5g of total fat* per RACC.
* Avoid the health claim disqualifiers of 21 CFR 101.14.
Companies with products that qualify may begin using it immediately on label or in advertising.
*Most health claims authorized by FDA require a “low” rather than a “moderate” fat content. A “low” fat content would be 3g or less of total fat per RACC.
Source: Mark Hostetler, attorney, Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin LLP, St. Louis, Mo., email@example.com.
—Barbara T. Nessinger, Contributing Editor
Showcase: Emulsifiers, Fats and Oils
For rich and creamy sauces and dressings with labels that say “natural,” reach for real eggs. Whole egg and yolk products naturally emulsify immiscible ingredients, creating smooth and silky textures. In fact, egg products have functional properties that do the job of many additives—naturally—with a clean ingredient label. Get formulas and/or technical assistance. American Egg Board, EGGSolutions™, 877-488-6143, www.aeb.org
Lecithin delivers functionality, including extending shelflife and reducing fat content, to help food formulators develop products with health benefits. Known for its emulsifying and instantizing properties, lecithin also acts as an efficient release agent. It can reduce egg use and replace more costly fats without adding cholesterol or trans fatty acids. Cargill Texturizing Solutions’ lecithin helps stabilize the water-in-oil emulsion of margarine and spreads—from standard household margarine to premium, dietetic and commercial varieties. It also improves baking properties, enhances the effects of other baking improvers and increases the storage life of fat-free and fat-containing bakery products. Cargill, 877-650-7080, www.cargilltexturizing.com
The delivery of functional and active ingredients is facilitated with products from Stepan Company. NEOBEE® medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) can be used as carriers for flavors, colors, essential oils and vitamins. DREWPOL® 3-5-CC has a higher viscosity (100cP at 25°C), lower freeze point (-40°C) and higher smoke point (247°C) than the MCTs. DREWMULSE® GMC-810 (glycerol mono (caprylate/caprate)) functions as a wetting agent and dispersant for whey, starch and flour. STEPAN EDS® (erythritol distearate) offers outstanding properties as a shell component for microencapsulation applications. The products are free of trans-fatty acids and GMOs and are certified kosher. Stepan Company, James Butterwick, 201-712-7642, firstname.lastname@example.org
Created to help food manufacturers meet trans fat labeling requirements, the NovaLipid™ line encompasses soybean, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, canola and tropical oils. ADM’s NovaLipid products make up one of the most complete line of zero/low trans oils, shortening and margarines on the market. ADM commercializes an environmentally friendly enzyme interesterification process, giving NovaLipid products unique functional and nutritional characteristics. NovaLipid is ideal for baked goods, snack foods, confections, fried foods, cereals, margarines and spreads. ADM, 800-637-5843, email@example.com, www.admworld.com
The American Palm Oil Council is dedicated to bringing all the goodness of the palm to the marketplace. Palm oil is trans fat-free and provides a valuable source of beta carotene and antioxidants, tocopherols and tocotrienols, which are isomers of vitamin E. For trans fat-free frying and baking formulations. Blending palm or palm kernel oil with liquid oils is a good solution to maintaining functionality and improving the health profile of products. American Palm Oil Council, www.americanpalmoil.com