It is hoped the project – ongoing from the University of Guelph in Canada – will bear answers for the many food industry players attempting to swap out unsaturated fats for healthier saturated versions.
Industry has been largely unsuccessful in this process because of texture differences and characteristics of saturated versus unsaturated fats.
“As soon as the healthier unsaturated fats are used to replace the trans and saturated ones, the solid structure is lost,” Maria Fernanda Peyronel-Svaikauskas, a University of Guelph research associate explained.
“The key problem is the food industry trying to do this with much trial and error. We are trying to help them with our research by removing the trial and error.”
If the project is successful in providing answers it could be great news for European businesses which are increasingly under government pressure to reformulate products to be healthier, with less saturated fats, sugar and salt.
Many companies have hit a brick wall in sugar reformulation attempts, because removing sugar often means increasing unhealthy fats.
The option to use a healthier fat without compromising on taste and texture could also therefore be a boon for sugar reformulation.
Under the project, University of Guelph researchers are proposing and running various experiments using the US Department of Energy’s (DoE) Advanced Photon Source (APS) X-ray technology.
The tech uses ultra-small angle X-rays scattered in the fats which enables scientists to look at the structure of edible fats at meso and micro levels, which are hundreds of nanometres to a few micrometres in size.
“Edible fats are made of triglycerides that clump to form crystalline nanoplatelets, which in turn form larger masses of particles,” according to a press statement.
“The researchers use the APS to study those larger structures inside and out. Unlike using conventional microscopy, using X-rays means researchers need not condition or manipulate samples for in-situ measurement.
“Food scientists may use this information to decide whether they have the desired product for a particular purpose, such as a spreading or a fat to make cookies or to get the best chocolate.”
One study already completed using the DoE APS system looked at characterisation of the nanoscale structure of milk fat which the team said “provides a new dimension of analysis”.
Other recent University of Guelph studies on the field include characterising mixtures of the fat triacylglycerols with a view to using the research to design novel healthier fat structures. Another is on the characterisation of the food grade polymer oleogels, used as a fat replacement. The team said understanding oleogel characteristics is “essential for the development of new applications”.
Peyronel-Svaikauskas concluded that the applications for fat are “tremendous”.