Food processing industry challenged by demand for healthy, stable oils

Jan. 2, 2013

Many consumers are now focusing on health and carefully choose the products they buy and use.

Many consumers are now focusing on health and carefully choose the products they buy and use. Access to information has made a large proportion of them well aware of the different types of oils and fats available on the market and food processors and cooking oil producers are trying to respond to consumer demand by offering stable but healthy products.

According to Food Processing website, one of the most popular new products on the market is high-oleic acid canola oil. Oleic acid is found in olive oil and research has shown that it can reduce levels of so-called bad cholesterol, without affecting the good cholesterol, thus limiting the risk of developing heart disease. A recent study, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, revealed that rapeseed oil, also known as canola oil, can have a similar effect on high cholesterol levels and high triglycerides.

Generally, there are two categories of fatty acids: saturated and unsaturated. The first type are "saturated" with hydrogen, unlike unsaturated, in which at least one pair of carbon atoms is bonded together by a double link, thus excluding some hydrogen. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid that is found not only in olive oil but also in avocados, macadamia nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, peanuts and cashews.

While unsaturated fats are good for the human body because they help cells retain warmth and help people adapt to cold weather, unsaturated fats are not that favored by the food processing industry because they are not as stable as saturated fats. This affects the shelf life of certain products and sometimes means that using unsaturated fats in food production is financially unviable. Moreover, their volatility means changing the melting point of the fats, potentially changing the texture of the product, altering its properties.

In an attempt to deal with these issues, food processors are forced to look for more stable fats that can ensure optimal qualities for food products but are not harmful to human health, Food Processing explained. For example, classic canola oil starts to break and release fatty acids from the fat molecule at a lower temperature, compared to high-oleic canola oil. This temperature is known as smoke point and the higher it is for a given product, the more stable the fats are. That is why high-oleic canola oil is a better marketing alternative to regular refined canola oil for specific applications like frying and baking, which involve high temperatures.

High-oleic canola oil is just one of the most recent products that scientists have been working on but it is certainly not the only one. Researchers have developed plants that are bred to contain high levels of monounsaturated fats and low levels of polyunsaturated fats to ensure products can be shelf-stable for longer periods. The process of creating stable oils through breeding plants with double bonds means that these oils are also more healthy than others involving chemical treatment, Food Processing reported.

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