By Grace Weitz
Just when it seemed that food technologists had overcome the zero trans fats challenge in confections, another hurdle from an equally threatening type of fat surfaced. Saturates have rolled out of the candy belt as the new enemy, causing a flurry of manufacturers to test new products and seek alternative production methods to lower the amount of saturates in their candies and chocolates.
The latest trend in the fats and oils industry shows that not much has changed during the past few years. The fact that companies don’t want trans fats in their products has become standard and manufacturers have begun focusing instead on reducing the equally pesky sister fat-saturates.
“In terms of trans fats that’s pretty much out of there,” says Thomas McBrayer, the R&D director of Fuji Oil, USA. ”When customers come to us they don’t even mention them. It goes without saying they don’t want any trans fat.” McBrayer notes that companies have shifted their focus to keeping saturates off the label.
“Saturates are on the radar screen. Everyone wants to reduce their saturates as low as possible,” says McBrayer. “Really the next hurdle is getting saturates down.”
To work towards this goal, Fuji Oil USA’s sister company, Fuji Oil Europe produced Redusat, a product which contains less than half the amount of saturates while keeping the same structure, allowing confectioners to create satisfactory fillings and coatings with a similar texture to traditional fats. Athough Redusat contains a high amount of healthy liquid oil, it crystallizes in a network that captures the oil, allowing it to retain a strong texture. Along with its lower saturates content, the product has also been shown to reduce the bad kind of cholesterol, LDL, and increase the amount of HDL-good cholesterol.
Although no full-scale production of Redusat has occured here in the U.S., McBrayers says there has been some interest for the product, and they have sent samples to several consumers.
Instead of producing, Redusat, Fuji Oil USA has concentrated on testing some of its own products. But McBrayer did not want to say exactly what those products were, indicating only that “some are really in the development stage right now.” Although he wouldn't give specifics, McBrayer did express that the focus continued to be on “keeping the label clean” or eliminating hydrogenation.
Companies are trying to avoid the process of partial-hydrogenation, says McBrayer because of its hand in helping create trans fat. Instead manufacturers have opted for techniques like interesterification to reduce saturated fat.
Interesterification isn't a new process, but the man-made technique has become more popular as companies move away from using partial-hydrogenation. The process is similar to hydrogenation, but does not produce trans fats and allows technologists to play around with the saturated fat content. During interesterification stearic acid and alkylinic catalysts are added to the vegetable oil followed by the use of enzymes or chemicals to modify the molecular structure of the oil. In the end, the oil is manipulated to have characteristics similar to that of a fat.
Karsten Nielsen, the v.p and chief technology officer of AarhusKarlshamn AB (AAK), the world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality specialty vegetable fats, says that the company favors interesterification along with fractionation over other methods. The European manufacturer avoids hydrogenation because it's hard to explain to consumers that a product may contain hydrogenated oils and still not contain trans fatty acids, and also because of the new labeling rules within the European Union (EU).
Measures passed by the EU in Dec. 2010 now require manufacturers to increase the amount and detail of ingredients on the label of a product. All processed foods must now clearly display the energy values and quantity of salt, fat, saturates, carbohydrates, protein, and sugar content on the packaging.
As a result saturated fat is in the spotlight more than ever. "This leads to an increased use of interesterification and fractionation of palm oil as palm oil is the only economically feasible way to produce saturated fatty acids without hydrogenation," explains Karsten.
The challenge, continues Karsten, now becomes maintaining the "process-ability" and eating quality of the original product while still trying to reduce saturates. "That is the trick--it is easy to make "healthier" oils, but the consumer still requires chocolate with physical properties as they are used to at a reasonable cost," he says.
AAK has spent the past several years improving some of their current product lines in order to maintain this delicate balance of good taste, affordable price and healthier product. Products like the Cebes NH, a non-hydrogenated cocoa butter substitute, has been transformed to function much like that of their traditional Cebes MC range.
Tests are also in the works on a product called Akopol NH, which is a non-hydrogenated form of the cocoa butter replacer, Akopol. The idea is to get the product closer to the properties of their standard Akopol without the use of hydrogenation.”
AAK also creates products such as DeliAir, a filling fat that allows the chocolate producer to make a traditional chocolate filling with air, but reduces overall fat, explains Nielson.
“As you eat chocolate ‘by the piece’ or by volume this has the same effect as when you add water to a low fat spread-you fulfill your need for a snack, but with a lower intake of energy, fat and sugar,” says Nielsen. “At the same time the product tastes great and creates fantastic new mouth feel.”
While AAK continues to improve upon and research products, they have not released any specifically new confectionery items since DeliAir launched in 2009. Cargill, on the other hand, a leader in the fats and oils industry, recently released a version of its own low saturated oil for testing earlier this year.
Clear Valley Low-Saturated Canola Oil, a high stability oil with 4 - 4.5% saturated fat -25% less saturated fat than conventional canola oil and the lowest amount of saturated fat of any vegetable oil-matches Cargill's desire to produce a healthier, low saturate product.
Mike Landis, technical service manager of Cargill dressings, sauces and oils explains how Cargill's low saturate fat oils are "built off their existing technology platform of high-stabilizty, zero-trans fat from hydrogenation and extremely low oil flavor and odor," meaning Clear Valley Low-Saturated Canola Oil should maintain the similar mouth feel, shelf life and functionality of other high oleic canola oils, but without the added saturated fat.
“Our customers operate in a state of constant change," says Loh in an informational video on their website. “The past has been all about reducing cholesterol and eliminating trans fat. The future is going to be about reducing saturated fats, building reliable supply chains and addressing chronic disease as well as obesity.”