Breakthroughs in the lab provide food makers with a competitively priced technology designed by Danish enzyme leader Novozymes to cut the artery-clogging trans fats out of food products, writes Lindsey Partos.
The firm has worked on bringing the cost down for its enzyme Lipozyme TL IM, an immobilised lipase, now used by agri giant ADM at the first commercial enzyme interesterification facility in North America.
"Alternative products for food makers must be at equal costs - we needed lab breakthroughs to make the enzyme cost effective for food manufacturers," Hans Christian Holm, global marketing manager for fats and oils at Novozymes told FoodNavigator.com.
Food makers are looking for alternative processes to slice the trans fatty acids out of food formulations due to mounting evidence that suggests the TFAs raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, causing the arteries to become more rigid and clogged. An increase in LDL cholesterol levels can lead to heart disease.
Incoming rules in the US mean that by 1 January 2006 all trans fats in food products will have to be labelled on the nutritional panel. Europe has yet to introduce a similar rule, but consumer organisations are pressing for such transparency.
Trans fatty acids (TFAs) are formed when liquid vegetable oils go through a chemical process called hydrogenation - hydrogenated vegetable fat is used by food processors because it is solid at room temperature and has a longer shelf life. Cost has been a barrier to changing the enzyme process, an obstacle that Novozymes believes it has overcome.
ADM, the first large company to work Lipozyme TL IM into a commercial process, is using it to make the NovaLipid line of zero/low trans fat oils and margarines, says Holm.
The US agri giant ADM launched the NovaLipid line of oils and shortenings in July last year, marketing them for use in margarine, baking, frying, confectionery, snack and cereal products. Since then the firm announced it would expand the line at its Quincy, Illinois enzyme interesterification facility because of increasing market demand.
The facility on the Mississippi river is the first commercial unit in the US for the enzymatic interesterification of fats and is now capable of interestifying a variety of oils.
Food makers today have two possibilities for interestification : chemicals or enzymes. But the cost of the enzyme process has driven manufacturers to opt for the less expensive chemical option.
According to Holm, the enzyme products, now at an equal cost, bring further advantages compared to the chemical process. "The conditions mean that this is a gentler process for the oil, and one that preserves the by-products, for example the antioxidants," said Holm. Not only this, in addition to the trans fats issue, consumers do not want their foodstuffs to be chemically processed, he added.
Enzymatic processing takes place in a compact packed column. Novozymes has prepared 'plug-in' units than can be leased. In that case, 'the only capital cost is a pump and some piping', says the firm.
While European manufacturers have yet to take up the technology, Holm said that there are industrial pilot trials of around 400 kilos currently taking place in Europe. The enzyme is sold from 100 kilos to a ton a time.