With spring planting season on the horizon, scientists are planting the seeds of healthier oils for cooking French fries, fried chicken and other fried items prepared in restaurants and other settings in the foodservice industry. Those seeds of new types of heart-healthy soybean, canola and sunflower oils are the topic of an article in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.
In the article, C&EN Senior Business Editor Melody M. Bomgardner explains that roughly 22 billion pounds of vegetable oils are used for food making in the U.S. each year. So-called partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which can extend products’ shelf-lives, were widely used in preparing restaurant foods such as french fries, as well as snack foods and baked goods since the early 1900s. But mounting evidence in the 1990s showed that these oils are not healthful because of the trans fats that are formed in their production. Trans fats increase the risk of heart disease by raising levels of “bad” cholesterol and lowering levels of “good” cholesterol.
By the time the Food and Drug Administration began requiring food manufacturers to list trans fats on their labels in 2006, Dow and DuPont were already exploring alternatives. The companies plan to launch new seeds that promise oilseed crops with healthier fat content in 2013. Dow’s Plenish soybean was genetically engineered, while DuPont’s Nexera canola and sunflower were produced through plant breeding. Both companies’ products have high amounts of oleic acid, which has been shown to be much more heart-healthy than partially hydrogenated oils. The first target market for these “high-oleic” oils is fried foods, where they can be reused more often than current oils, resulting in a 40 percent cost savings to the food industry. Companies are still working on similar products that could replace shortenings used for baked goods.