The Cutting Edge Science and Technology of Food Oil Production
New sources of oil from seeds, grains, and algae are expanding options for processors
Few food manufacturers can say they get through a day of production without using oil or fat of some kind. Bakery, confections, snacks, sauces and condiments — all rely on the right oils or fats, and all their makers need to keep their fingers on the pulse of the latest in food oil developments and technology.
Food oils and fats certainly benefit from the ongoing advancements in seed oil breeding, extraction technology, functionality improvement, and competition in the multibillion dollar field. And, as pointed out in these pages, new sources of oil from seeds, grains, and even algae are constantly expanding the options for processors.
For example the pursuit and development of better oils through conventional breeding practices versus genetic modification continue to bring successes along the lines of the high-oleic/high omega-9 soy, canola, and sunflower oils that essentially redefined the food oil industry only a few years ago. These oils were not only game changers when it came to their health profile but their performance also raised the bar as well, with high smoke points and extended shelf life. Also, ingredient technologists are focusing on increasing shelf life of fats and oils without compromising clean label status. Such ingredients as rosemary extract and vitamin C (ascorbic acid) are increasingly being used for oil protection.
Check out our December 2019 issue for more food & beverage predictions!
Plant scientists and geneticists continue seeking ways to increase oil production from oilseed crops, as well, addressing land use and sustainability issues. Last year, research scientists at Purdue University were able to identify the genetic trait in cultivated soybeans that turned on increased oil content. Looking beyond the seed itself, where most research had been focused, the Purdue scientists found a link between oil production and the genetic trait responsible for bloom in the pod.
Another example of new technology comes out of Spain, where a Barcelona-based start up has developed a mechanical process it claims can convert liquid oils from sunflower to olive oil into solid or semi-solid structured fats. The company also has devised a method of cultivating fats from individual cells. Research has demonstrated that these new forms of plant-derived fats can improve juiciness and reduce saturated fat levels in such up-trending products as plant-based burgers, without resorting to hydrogenation or interesterification.
Cold-pressing oil from seeds to preserve their more delicate nutrients might be nothing new, but the variety of seeds being used for cold-pressed oil continues to expanding. While cumin, mustard, and fennel seed oils have a long history in Indian cuisine, and chia seed oil has been enjoying rapidly rising popularity, seeds from broccoli, tomato, carrot, and cucumber are beginning to be exploited for their oils.
Costs can be comparatively high for some of these, so they might not achieve the growth status of, for example, avocado oil, but fruit and vegetable seed oils, when used in small amounts in non heat-treated applications (such as dressings and cold sauces) can be an excellent way for formulators to add unique flavor nuances. Moreover, they can be marketed for their high amounts of healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidant phytochemicals.
Another healthful oil gaining notice is extracted from the seed of ahiflower (Buglossoides arvensis). Ahiflower oil is seen as a competitor to flax seed oil in that it has unusually high amounts of stearidonic omega-3 fatty acids, plus omega-6 fatty acids as gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). The former is converted in the body to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and thus allows for those famous normally marine-sourced oils to be available to vegetarians.
Shortenings also are benefiting from progress in fat technology. Newer types of shortening, such as those made from high-stability soybean oils, have been designed to provide high functionality even during processing under cool conditions, delivering excellent appearance, texture, and mouthfeel to products. For cookies, these new shortenings allow smoother creaming and dough consistency.
With shortenings that can provide superior processing functionality across a wider range of temperatures than before, processors can craft everything from more stable, yet fluffy, icings and frostings that maintain texture and have the added benefit of holding colors better. These new shortenings also lend cakes high volume and better aeration. Others are designed specifically to mimic the functionality of lard, including shorter, flakier, and tenderer pie crusts, and provide impressive freeze/thaw tolerance.
NEXT-GEN OLIVE OILS
While a higher smoke point is typically one of the key attributes a manufacturer looks for in a food oil, Vincent Ricchiuti, director of operations at P-R Farms, Inc.’s Enzo Olive Oil Co., encourages food product developers to use extra virgin olive oil.
Even though extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of around 375°F, compared to refined soy or sunflower oil at about 450°F, Ricchiuti points out that, for many heat-processing applications, there is no need to exceed 375°F, and asserts that “olive oil that will provide the highest level of quality for the consumer.” Even though such an endorsement is subjective, there is great validity to not choosing an oil based strictly on a high smoke point.
When olive oil meets the requirements to be extra virgin grade, it incorporates both great flavor and superior health benefits. It has long been recognized to help lower the risk of heart disease and deliver a supply of cancer-fighting antioxidants. For marketers, the cachet of calling out extra virgin grade-oil on the label assures that including this ingredient in a product will demonstrate benefits and value to the consumer.
In California, one of the fastest growing specialty crops, olives is at the top of technological innovation utilizing advanced scientific methods. Research and development is conducted in conjunction with institutions such as the University of California, Davis, to continually ensure the highest quality production results. Olives for olive oil contain a smaller carbon footprint than many other crops, engages comprehensive sustainability models, and requires very low levels of water. Established olive trees can live for centuries or longer, and do so in substandard soils where many other crops would not flourish.
Importantly, to avoid adulterated or even fraudulent food oil (see “Label Libel,” below), food manufacturers should consider domestic sources. Pure olive oil from California has gone through both lab tests and sensory panels and is able to wear the verified California Olive Oil Council (COOC) seal. The seal provides assurance that the product is extra virgin grade, grown in California, and from the most recent harvest (with the harvest date available on the packaging).
Lately, a major challenge has returned to the forefront of food oils: fraud. “Bait and switch,” fraudulent labeling, doctoring and adulteration, and outright theft have been wreaking havoc in the world food oil markets. The crisis has been brought further into the limelight by the authenticity and traceability trends that have consumers — and therefore processors — paying much greater attention to where the ingredients in their food come from, and what happens to them along the way from farm to fork.
For North American processors, the oils they are most likely to get scammed on are olive oil and grapeseed oil. There is an olive oil shortage due to a combination of climate crises and a bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa, running rampant in the olive-producing regions of Italy. In fact, throughout most of the Mediterranean olive crop yields are down. Political and economic unrest in major olive oil producing countries of the Mediterranean, such as Greece, Morocco, Turkey, and Tunisia, have only compounded to the problem.
The best olive-growing countries also are the best grape-growing countries. Grapeseed oil has enjoyed a big jump in popularity in recent years due to its flavor, high smoke point, and a nutritional profile closely matching olive oil. Yet this popularity also ended up inviting fraud, so adulteration and mislabeling now plague grapeseed oil, too.
A current major issue for grapeseed oil is that unscrupulous providers branding mixtures of these oils with cheaper, lower quality oils the presence of which is nearly — and deceptively — hidden by misleading (and sometimes illegal) labeling. New York- and California-produced grapeseed oils should be carefully vetted for 100% grapeseed oil content. It should also be noted that avocado oil, which also is experiencing increased usage in the food industry, is subject to the same sort of labeling issues.