Trends in food oils happen at a slower pace. That’s because it can take years to develop, grow, and cultivate oilseed (or other sources) and bring the final product to market. All the while, marketers need to build awareness for a new oil in a competitive landscape dominated by corn, canola, and soy offerings. 

Trends usually happen in waves. For example, grapeseed oil has been around forever, yet it enjoyed a surge in the past few years because its clean flavor and good smoke point (420°F)—combined with a good supply—made it competitive with olive oil. So, too, avocado oil surged in popularity in recent years. Its combination of rich flavor and high smoke point (480°F) made it perfect for fried chip and snack manufacturing applications. However, these two oils have been subject to cost fluctuations, and the oil they typically support or replace—olive oil—has been beset by its own issues with doctored, counterfeit, and other dubious forms. 

Butter Bursts

As fear of fat continues to fade, animal fats—especially butter— are reclaiming their position as versatile, flavorful fats that have always maintained good “comfort” status. High rancidity and low smoke point makes butter better suited to baking and as a flavorful finisher in sauces. Butter will continue its strong and well-deserved comeback into the next year and beyond.

Palm oil also has met its share of controversy. However, the coming year likely will see an increase in use of palm oil from regions in Africa and South America determined as more eco-friendly in their oil growing and manufacturing. Red palm oil—especially rich in the cancer-fighting tocotrienol form of vitamin E—should see some increased traction in the coming years. Likewise, rice bran oil will gain ground for the same reason.

Also, among the tropical oils, coconut oil not only is riding along with the general coconut popularity boom, at about two-thirds medium-chain triglycerides it is poised to reap the benefits of this new “big buzz” ingredient. It is, however, limited for some prepared formulations due to its strong distinct flavor and low smoke point (350°F).

Making a huge comeback in 2018 will be sunflower oil. It is a rich-tasting, non-GMO oil, with high domestic production. When it comes to nut oils, growing popularity of Middle Eastern, African, and Asian flavors will continue to give a boost to sesame and peanut oils.

Pumpkinseed oil is increasing in popularity as a low smoke-point oil more suited to dressings. Other offbeat sources—such as watermelon seed, tea seed, and quinoa seed—will see a healthy jump in the specialty oils market. All the while, we can expect to see mainstream oils (corn, soy, and canola) continue to differentiate with healthier versions higher in omega 3 fatty acids. 

Of all the plant oils to watch, chia seed oil is perhaps best positioned to hit big in 2018. The explosion in popularity of chia seed has naturally led to the oil making its way here from South America, where it is a staple in many regions. At about two-thirds omega-3 fatty acids—yet with a neutral flavor and smoke point of nearly 400°F—chia oil is particularly high in antioxidants (about twice that of canola oil), with a number of healthful polyphenolic acids and plant sterols. These compounds also keep rancidity low, making it ideal as a commodity oil for food product manufacturing.

Originally appeared in the December, 2017 issue of Prepared Foods as Oil’s Well.