Trends in fats and oils: It's all about minimal processing, novel ingredients & changing the plant's genetic profile

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Consumers are confused over the healthiness of saturated fats, worried about chemical contaminants in processed oils and turned off by labels cluttered with additives to extend shelf and fry life. So what are the options? At this year’s IFT, FoodNavigator spoke to oil and fat experts who discussed the different ways they are approaching this.

The debate on the unhealthiness of saturated fat versus the healthiness of unsaturated fats continues to yo-yo back and forth, and although national dietary guidelines still advocate a switch to unsaturated fats, sales of butter and coconut oil are on the rise because they are perceived as being more natural.

Meanwhile the clean label movement means ingredient lists that include additives such as TBHQ, used to extend shelf-life and prevent rancidity, have fallen out of favour, and recent calls to boycott palm oil​ over high levels of carconigenic chemical contaminant, 3MCPD, have left many worried.

How can industry react to these issues?

Raw, cold-pressed and artisanal

Whether its raw coconut oil, cold-pressed walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil, referencing a low impact processing method can work well.

David Turner, global food and drink analyst at Mintel, said: “People are reacting very well to those artisanal-style claims: think about raw, natural, cold-pressed,” ​he said, adding that these options are all open to both small-scale producers and big food companies.

olive oil med italian phenols plants iStock.com leonori
© iStock / Leonori

Turner gave the example of one US ice cream company Dreyer’s, a subsidiary of Nestlé that was picked out by Mintel's latest intelligence software Purchasing Intelligence for adding the words ‘slow-churned’ to its packaging.

“It’s referencing the production process in a way that consumers can relate to – a craft way. They understand ‘something has turned slowly, there’s more care’. “

Meanwhile, raw and cold-pressed claims convey the sense that the oil’s nutrients have not been destroyed by heat.

“You can see with cold-pressed in juices, it’s a production technique that you can produce on a mass scale. I think it’s the idea of what’s intrinsically in your process and how can you treat it in a careful way.”

Problem with the oil? Change the plants

Meanwhile Dave Booher, group leader for healthy oils at DowAgro Sciences, talked about how the company has taken a different approach.

DowAgro Sciences has gone to the root (literally) of the problem by altering the fatty acid profile of the oil-producing plants themselves – either through biotech and GM methods or using traditional plant breeding techniques for its non-GMO platform.

Using Dow's 'next generation oils' means manufacturers can do away with the need for preservatives.

“Many times antioxidants or preservatives are used to maintain the shelf-life of that oil. For example, TBHQ [which is] an acronym for a very long word that consumers don’t understand and won’t understand why it’s in there. Its role is to protect the product but it’s unfamiliar with customers," ​said Booher.

canola oil iStock.com matka_Wariatka
Canola oil © iStock / Matka Wariatka

“[The plant breeding techniques or biotech methods] elevate levels of more stable fatty acids - oleic acid and monounsaturated fat – and decrease the level of less stable fatty acids, like the polyunsaturated fats. By doing that it makes the oil that comes out of the plant inherently more stable so it’s much more useful for a food manufacturer as far as shelf-life is concerned or fry-life.”

Go for a novel approach

Other companies, such as US biotech firm TerraVia, are going for a novel approach by looking for completely new ingredients.

Culinary director Marisa Churchill spoke of the company’s better-for-you algae oil, known as AlgaWise to food manufacturers and Thrive as the company’s consumer-facing brand.

Lipid-rich algae powder © TerraVia

”It’s very high in monounsaturated fats – 94% monounsaturated and only 4% saturated fat. From a culinary standpoint it’s also an amazing product. As a chef I love working with it because it has a 485 ºF ​(252 ºC) smoke point which is phenomenal. So you don’t really have to worry about burning things and one of the concerns too with burning things is you cause free radicals in the food which can be carcinogenic.”

Although it is not currently approved in Europe – a novel foods application is being prepared for submission and the company is aiming to have EFSA approval by 2018 – TerraVia’s lipid-rich algae powders have been given the EU's green light for food safety.

“It’s a whole algae cell that’s dried so you can get 50% fat but then you also get all of the nutrients in it as well. It’s a powerful whole food. You have protein, fibre, micronutrients, macronutrients – you get all the benefits.”

Churchill said the powders also have emulsifying properties, making them ideal for egg-free vegan baking, and have a buttery flavour.

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