By Isaac Fletcher, contributing writer, Food Online
As consumer preferences and FDA regulations push partially hydrogenated oils out of ingredient lists, producers seek new alternatives and ingredient suppliers look to capitalize on the opportunity
The introduction of partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) in the early 1900s ushered in a new era of baked goods production. Rather than reliance upon butter or lard, baked goods could be produced with PHO, resulting in a longer shelf life and lower production costs. However, about a decade ago, the dangers of trans fat — in particular the increased risk of heart disease and other related issues — came to the forefront. Once this knowledge began to spread, a shit in consumer preferences led to few purchases of products produced with or containing high amounts of trans fat. Adjusting accordingly, food producers began creating products with less trans fat.
In 2006, the FDA began requiring that all products containing PHO must have the amounts of trans fat declared on the product’s packaging, seven years after an initial proposal for the labeling change. This labeling requirement incentivized many producers to move away from trans fat altogether as consumers became even more aware of its dangers.
Last November, in an effort to reduce the amounts of PHO further still, the FDA revoked the status of PHO as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). Prior to this announcement, many producers had already begun the shift away from trans fat. Dr. Leon Bruner, chief scientist at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said in a statement that his group estimates that food manufacturers had already voluntarily lowered the amount of trans fats in food products by 73 percent.
As producers move away from PHO and seek alternatives, ingredient suppliers have been working to develop products that serve the same function as PHO without the dangers of trans fat. Palm oil, which has been used in other parts of the world for decades, could prove to be one such alternative. Due to its high levels of saturated fat, palm oil had long been avoided in the U.S., but with the discovery that trans fat is much more harmful than saturated fat, products that use palm oil may very well become more accepted.
IOI Loders Croklaan, an ingredients supplier with a focus on palm oil, is one such company seeking PHO alternatives. Gerald McNeill, vice president of research and development at IOI Loders Croklaan, believes that not only will palm oil become more accepted, but that the amount of saturated fat can be reduced through blending and processing. Researchers at IOI Loders Croklaan have already identified more than 20 components from palm oil, which can be separated into their component forms through processes of filtration and crystallization. It is with these types of methods that ingredient companies will be able to develop PHO alternatives that are nearly as versatile and easy to use.
Regulation and consumer preferences are pushing trans fats aside and food producers and ingredient suppliers alike are hungry for an alternative. In the second part of The Transition Away From Trans Fats, the interesterification of seed oils, another PHO alternative, and the resurgence of traditional fats companies are using to kick trans fat from their labels will be discussed.