The National Sunflower Association (NSA) held a meeting of the minds in Bismarck, North Dakota last August. In addition to a site visit to the farms of Clark Coleman, on hand were Diliaria Iassonova, PhD, MD, director of the Fats and Oils Innovation and Foodservice teams at Cargill Inc.; Brian Owens, vice-president of oil procurement and risk management for Stratas Foods LLC; and Erik Heggen, president of North America Refined Oils at ADM.

The upcoming ban on trans-fats has sent many processors scrambling to fill the functional shoes while bettering the health profile of their products that previously were cooked in or contained the partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) that are the main source of the offending fat form.

Moderated by John Sandbakken, executive director of the NSA, the presenters at the NSA meeting educated attendees on the ability of high-oleic sunflower oil, especially in customized oil blends, to act as an effective, healthful clean-label solution for formulations designed to be trans-fat free. They especially clarified how high-oleic sunflower oil compares to emerging oils also claiming non-GMO status.

At the farm, the guests learned that drought conditions that had been somewhat worrisome even for the highly drought-resistant crop, was anticipated to end. (The good prognosis was confirmed shortly after the event, when it was reported that sunflower crop ratings in the Dakotas continue to trend upward after receiving beneficial rain in August.) And, according to the association’s report, last March, USDA did report sunflower seed stocks in all positions at 1.33 billion pounds. Stocks of oil type sunflower seed were at 1.05billion pounds up 36% from last year at the same time.

To highlight the meeting, a sunflower-rich five-star multicourse lunch event was held at Pirogue Grille by chef/owners Stuart and Cheryl Tracy. Chef Tracy, a North Dakota native, received his formal culinary training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, and Walt Disney World Culinary Management Program. He has been a part of the esteemed Pebble Beach Golf Tournament Culinary Team since 1994.

Processors will be seeking more clean-label, allergen-free solutions as they reformulate for today’s consumers. High oleic oils and blends have been major components of solutions to the PHO/trans-fat issue. Not only is high oleic sunflower oil PHO and GMO free, as an extremely hardy crop, grown domestically, sunflowers also score top marks for sustainability. Moreover, among cooking oils, sunflower is one of the richest in natural antioxidants and is high in oleic fatty acids (Omega 9) .This is beneficial to both the oil itself (increasing time to rancidity and fry life) and as a source of antioxidants for human health.