Making Foods Better with Less Saturate and Trans Fats

September 2011/Prepared Foods -- The “great fat debate” has lasted for decades. Which fats should be consumed more often? Which fats should be consumed less frequently? Prior to World War II, concentrated sources of saturated fat, such as butter, eggs, bacon and home fries, were often found in the home. During the war, butter rationing caused the first major increase in hydrogenated oil consumption, and this forced more margarine into America’s homes. And, as saturated fat was increasingly linked to heart disease risk, health professionals and consumer advocacy groups campaigned for the reduction of saturated fats throughout the food industry over the next few decades. Polyunsaturated vegetable fat was seen as an acceptable, even “better-for-you” substitute, leading to an influx of partially hydrogenated oils in the marketplace throughout the 1990s, explained John D. Keller, food applications leader for Dow AgroSciences, during his presentation, “Beyond Trans Fat: Reducing Saturated Fat in Commercial Foods,” at the 2009 Prepared Foods’ R&D Applications Seminar-Chicago.

Public and industry perception soon shifted. Concern over saturated fat in the diet continued, but the removal of trans fats from hydrogenated oils became the number one priority. Most naturally occurring triglycerides are mixtures of various fatty acids distributed among the three positions of glycerol. The most common fatty acids are stearic acid (C18:0), oleic acid (C18:1), linoleic acid (C18:2) and linolenic acid (C18:3). Fatty acids are hydrogenated to improve functional properties and oxidative stability, but this leads to formation of unhealthy trans fat, little of which occurs naturally. Without hydrogenation, stability and functionality are issues. “An answer to this dilemma is a fat with naturally occurring stability, functionality and health attributes. This can be achieved through ingredient innovation,” said Keller.

Omega-9 canola oil is a result of this innovation. Omega-9 oils are uniquely high in monounsaturated fatty acids (>70% oleic) and low in polyunsaturated fatty acids (≤3% linolenic). In addition to the “good fats” found in omega-9 oils, these oils are a zero trans fat solution with the lowest saturated fat among cooking oils--an important differentiating factor, now that trans fat-free oils have become the industry standard. (See chart “Comparative Fatty Acid Profiles of Various Oils.”)

The neutral flavor and superior stability of omega-9 oils allow them to perform well in a variety of foodservice (frying, sautéing, salad dressing) and food manufacturing (shortening) applications, Keller pointed out. Because omega-9 oils and shortening are naturally stable, many formulations have no need for antioxidants, TBHQ or partial hydrogenation to achieve appropriate shelflife. This stability allows for a simpler ingredient list that food manufacturers and consumers alike can feel good about.

As “bad fat” priorities have switched from saturated fat to trans fat and back, interest also has risen in incorporating “good fats,” namely the omega fatty acids. Omega-9 oils are the ideal solution for foodservice operators and food manufacturers looking to improve the health profile of their product offerings, while maintaining functionality characteristics and the taste consumers have grown to love, concluded Keller.


“Beyond Trans Fat: Reducing Saturated Fat in Commercial Foods,” John D. Keller, food applications leader, Dow AgroSciences LLC,,

--Summary by Elizabeth Mannie, Contributing Editor

Going Green with Palm Oil
Consumers tend to believe oils derived from vegetable sources are the healthiest. The type of vegetable oil traditionally used by people once depended upon where they lived. For example, people in the Mediterranean basin used olive oil, whereas persons in the tropics used palm derivatives. In today’s global economy, food processors and foodservice operators can choose oils from distant sources. When looking at oils for a particular application, however, there are a number of factors that must be considered, noted Dennis Tagarelli, now vice president of sales, Aarhus Karlshamn USA (AAK), in his presentation, “Sustainability and Palm,” given at the 2009 Prepared Foods’ R&D Applications Seminars-Chicago. These include cost, availability, stability, shelflife and functionality. The latter point includes issues such as a melting point, melting characteristics and crystallization. In addition, potential users need to examine how any oil performs in their products.

Another point affecting the selection of oils is the presence of trans fatty acids. Functional fats of different characteristics may be created using a process known as hydrogenation. However, this process also creates trans fatty acids, which have been implicated in increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. The end-result is that processors are searching for other fats and oils that have the same functionality as those manufactured using hydrogenation, but that subsequently have trans fats in their composition. Among the options to replace these products are: 1) those manufactured using modifications of the traditional hydrogenation process; 2) products produced using a process called interesterification; 3) oils from crops that have been produced to yield specific traits; and 4) the adoption of fats naturally high in harder fats, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil and their fractions.

Palm oil and its fractions are highly versatile oils produced in the tropics. In fact, it is not only the world’s top-selling vegetable oil, but its production has been increasing steadily over the past 40 years, said Tagarelli. Among the beneficial attributes of palm oils are that they are non-GMO; high in mono-unsaturates; contain essential fatty acids; are naturally without trans fatty acids; are an excellent source of vitamin E and a good source of carotenoids; and are a good source of solid fats so necessary for functionality in many foods. Palm oil is, therefore, a logical and excellent alternative to hydrogenated fats containing trans fatty acids, Tagarelli concluded. (See chart “Solid Fat Content Profiles.”)

The two primary producers of palm oil and palm oil products are Indonesia and Malaysia. Asia is the primary user of these products, with the European Union being second. One of palm oil’s attractive features is that it is a sustainable product. In a world in which “going green” is becoming a mantra, palm is a highly sustainable product that provides a livelihood for millions of people the world over.

Aarhus Karlshamn and others are actively promoting the growth and use of sustainable palm oil through an organization called “The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil,” or RSPO. The organization was started in 2003 with seven members and has grown (to over 600 in 2011). Members include oil palm growers, processors, traders, environmental groups, investors, banks and retailers, Tagarelli explained. The organization has established codes of conduct and a certification program whereby growers, processors and ingredient manufacturers are certified by recognized certification bodies. Among the elements in the program are identity preservation, segregation, mass balance, and book and claim. Operations that have achieved certification may make claims in two areas: “contains only RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil” and “supports the production of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil.” This is done through an organization called Green Palm, which may be accessed at

The amount of land certified by RSPO has been increasing yearly, as has the volume of sustainable palm oil that is produced. The ultimate goal of the program is to see that all of the world’s palm oil production is grown and produced in a sustainable fashion, Tagarelli said.

“Sustainability and Palm,” Dennis Tagarelli, Aarhus Karlshamn USA,,

--Summary by Richard Stier, Contributing Editor

Omega-3 Oil Formulation Considerations
It is well-established that incorporation of omega-3 fatty acids into the diet can be beneficial towards health and well-being. There are literally thousands of studies supporting the benefits of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in human nutrition. Omega-3s improve cardiovascular health by lowering serum triglycerides and reducing arrhythmias and inflammation. DHA is a major component in the brain and eye and is an important factor in infant nutrition. Many studies have demonstrated a positive effect on visual acuity and intelligence in infants whose mothers’ diets were supplemented with DHA during pregnancy and lactation, said Brian Connolly, technical applications manager, Denomega Nutritional Oils, in his presentation, “Fortifying Foods with Omega-3 Oils,” given at the 2009 R&D Applications Seminars-East and 2010 R&D Applications Seminars-Chicago.  

The key is incorporating omega-3 fatty acids into the diet. One of the primary challenges to this is the compounds themselves. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly unsaturated. DHA and EPA (docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid) are the two primary long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and have six and five unsaturated sites, respectively. This high degree of unsaturation makes them prone to oxidation, which can yield pronounced off-flavors and odors--making the products into which they have been incorporated unpalatable.

When developing a product that incorporates omega-3 fatty acids, it is helpful for developers to understand the factors contributing to the development of rancidity. Among these factors are temperature, packaging, ingredient interactions and “relative oxidizability,” said Connolly. When looking at the effects of temperature, one must look at both processing and storage temperatures. For example, a 10°C (18°F) increase in storage temperature can increase reaction rates by 2-3 times, with a roughly equivalent decrease in shelflife. Developers must conduct storage studies to determine how the product will perform. Omega-3 fatty acids can withstand a variety of processing temperatures. However, the longer the exposure to high temperatures, the more oxidative stress is applied.

The type of packaging can help protect the omega-3s and maintain product quality. Packages that are a barrier to oxygen and light are effective tools for protecting the product. In addition, the use of modified atmospheres and oxygen scavengers can eliminate the oxygen that may attack the fatty acids.

How a product is formulated can enhance shelflife. Transition metals in foods, such as iron and copper, act as pro-oxidants and increase oxidation rates. Developers may also formulate using antioxidants, such as tocopherols. Antioxidants act by scavenging oxygen radicals; this prevents them from attacking the unsaturated areas of the fatty acids.

Combining omega-3 oils with less-unsaturated oils will lower their relative oxidizability and improve their stability. This is an easy way to incorporate omega-3s into many foods.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been successfully incorporated into many different products, including juices, dairy products, beverages, milk and baked goods, such as muffins, breads and pastries, spreads, meats and breakfast bars. How the omega-3s are added to these items depends upon the product and processing system. For example, when formulating beverages, the omega-3s may be homogenized into a juice using emulsifiers, whereas in baked goods, the omega-3s may be added to oils. There are basic guidelines for processors who have elected to fortify their products with omega-3s. They must store oils in the freezer; thaw the omega-3s under refrigeration; add the oils in a slow and controlled fashion; minimize exposure to heat, light and oxygen; and flush the opened containers with nitrogen after use. Failure to follow these basic guidelines will damage the oil and waste money, Connolly advised.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to enhance heart health. Incorporating these fatty acids into the diet is a challenge, since both docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid are highly unsaturated and prone to oxidation. When developing products that utilize omega-3s, food processors must understand how these ingredients should be handled and stored, and how the products must be processed and packaged to protect the omega-3s and the sensory properties of the food. pf


“Fortifying Foods with Omega-3 Oils,” Brian Connolly, technical applications manager, Denomega Nutritional Oils,,
--Summary by Richard Stier, Contributing Editor