A major objective of the scheme, which was commissioned by Leatherhead Food International, is to understand the functionality and physico-chemical properties of diacylglycerols (DAGs) alone and in combination with triacylglycerols (TAGs).
Researchers will then investigate how these substances can be used by food manufacturers to improve product quality and nutrition.
The ultimate objective of the project, according to the UK-based research consultancy group, is to reduce obesity.
"Recent evidence has demonstrated that consumption of DAGs induces lipid oxidation, and more importantly, suppresses fat accumulation," said Leatherhead in a press release.
"In addition, DAGs contributes to weight management by increasing satiety and gastric passage. It is anticipated that DAGs could act as full or partial replacers for saturated fats in a wide range of food products, therefore reducing the propensity towards obesity."
DAGs are fats that are found in vegetable oils in a small proportion of up to 10 per cent. DAGs are identical to TAGs, except that within the structure, there is a loss of one fatty acyl chain from the backbone in DAGs.
The types of fatty acyl chains found in DAGs could be the same as in TAGs, but this small structural difference impacts significantly on fat metabolism, resulting in benefits such as suppression of fat accumulation.
DAG oils are regarded as safe to use, and therefore have immense potential to be used as anti-obesity agent in a wide range of food and drink products.
Overweight and obesity levels continue to increase at an alarming rate - up to 27 per cent of European men and 38 per cent of women are now considered to be obese depending on the EU member state concerned.
What's more, the number of overweight children is also growing rapidly, rising by 400 000 a year. Obesity is a risk factor for many serious conditions including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and certain types of cancer.
Leatherhead said that the project would be carried out in two phases.
Phase one will involve includes the physico-chemical characterisation of DAGs materials and blends. The aim of this is to systematically characterise in terms of physico-chemical properties the behaviour of DAG materials, DAG/DAG blends and DAG/TAG blends, and compare them against saturated or trans fats normally used within different product categories.
Characterisation will be carried out using an array of techniques including differential scanning calorimetry. This will lead to identification of optimal DAG materials and DAG blends.
Phase two on the other hand will involve the evaluation of optimal DAG materials and blends in product applications. Samples within each of the four product categories, chocolate compound, cream filling, bakery pastry and biscuit, will be prepared with the optimal DAG materials and blends.
In addition, Leatherhead said that the samples with standard saturated or trans fat will be prepared for the purpose of comparison and benchmarking. Physico-chemical characterisation of these products will be carried out in terms of ease of preparation/compatibility with equipment, texture analysis and informal sensory assessment.
The deadline for 'Expression of Interest' in participating in this project is 28 February 2007.