[Foodplanning] Feature: Cutting Trans Fats Calls for Innovations In
Soy Bean Design
vasishth at csun.edu
Sun Jan 28 00:45:46 PST 2007
Health & Science
To Cut Out Trans Fats, You'll Need a Better Soybean
Listen to this story... by Scott Horsley
French fries close up. Why Do Fries
Taste So Good? A Brief History [See below]
The deep fryers of the dining halls at Iowa State. Scott Horsley, NPR
For the last two years, "low-lin" soybean
oil has been used in the deep fryers of the
dining halls at Iowa State University. The school
has found that trans-fat-free oil lasts twice as
long as old-fashioned hydrogenated oil.
Iowa State University plant breeder
Walter Fehr keeps specialty soybean oils in his
office for "encouragement." Soybeans supply
nearly 80 percent of all the oil used for cooking
and baking in the United States.
All Things Considered, January 26, 2007 · Across
the country, restaurants are under pressure to
get rid of trans fats, which are made when
hydrogen is added to vegetable oil; a July
deadline looming in New York City. But it won't
be easy to find a healthier cooking oil that can
be produced at the scale needed to supply
national chains and also hold up to extended use.
The search begins in the soybean fields of the
Nearly 80 percent of all the oil used for cooking
and baking in this country comes from soybeans.
But in their natural state, soybeans have a
problem: a high concentration of linolenic acid,
which makes their oil spoil quickly.
"It just doesn't have the shelf life that you
would like to have in products," says Walter
Fehr, a professor of agriculture at Iowa State
University who has devoted most of his career to
breeding soybeans for tofu, soy milk and
especially oil. "And that's the reason that they
switched many years ago to hydrogenation."
Stays Good Longer But Not So Good for You
Hydrogenation extends shelf life. In the last
century, the original Crisco and other partially
hydrogenated oils became popular because they
offered a lot of advantages. They make fried food
crispy. They can be used over and over again. And
they're inexpensive. But partial hydrogenation
also creates trans fats, which are now known to
increase levels of bad cholesterol. That's why
Fehr has been busy breeding a soybean that
doesn't need hydrogenation to stay fresh.
After decades of conventional breeding, Fehr
developed a line of soybeans that have just 1
percent linolenic acid. But breeding these
"low-lin" soybeans was only half the battle. Fehr
also had to find farmers willing to grow the
soybeans and processors willing to squeeze the
oil out of them. Finally, he had to prove to
restaurants that low-lin soybean oil would work
in a large-scale, commercial environment.
Iowa State's residential dining halls have been
cooking their French fries in Fehr's low-lin oil
for the last several years, using fryers just
like the ones in fast-food restaurants. Dining
hall manager Erica Bierman says in head-to-head
performance tests, the trans-fat-free oil
actually lasted twice as long as old-fashioned
"We noticed that we didn't have to change the oil
every week," Bierman says. "We started to test
how far we could hold the oil, and it ended up
being about two weeks."
It's Healthier But Does It Pass the Taste Test?
Another key consideration for restaurants is the
texture and taste of food once it has been fried
in oil. KFC rejected a trans-fat-free canola oil
because it hid the flavor of the chicken's 11
herbs and spices. McDonald's says it backed away
from a trans-fat-free oil in 2002 because the
French fries didn't taste quite right.
That's why food-processing giant Archer Daniels
Midland employs a full-time "sensory panel" to
test ingredients such as cooking oil before they
go to market.
"Our research chefs work with our ingredients to
develop recipes around them, to see how those
ingredients will work," says Research Vice
President Mark Matlock. "One of the really
important things with food is it has to taste
good. [For] consumers, it's better if it's more
nutritious, but it has to taste good."
Matlock says ADM has been working on its own line
of trans-fat-free oils for both restaurants and
packaged-food companies. A test tube bubbling
away in the company's laboratory bears the name
of the doughnut chain Krispy Kreme. Matlock says
it's just as well that food makers have not
switched away from trans-fat-filled oils in one
fell swoop. Given the amount of oil used
throughout the country, he says, the industry
needs time to adjust.
"If everybody banned trans all at once, it would
create some shortages, potentially, of the
naturally stable oils," he says.
Finding a Steady Supply of Tasty Oil
One of the biggest challenges for a company of
McDonald's size is ensuring an adequate supply of
oil. At the moment, there aren't enough low-lin
soybeans to go around. If all the restaurants in
the country were to make the switch, they would
need about 12.5 million acres of soybeans - an
area the size of Massachusetts and New Jersey
combined. Last year, less than a million acres of
the special soybeans were planted. The acreage is
expanding, but raising the soybeans - and keeping
them separate from ordinary beans - takes extra
effort. And professor Fehr says that not every
farmer is willing to do that.
"The farmer is going to be the one who decides
whether or not this is going to work in soybeans,
pure and simple," Fehr says. "And the challenge
right now for the 2007 crop is whether enough
farmers are going to be willing to grow these
Farmers do receive a premium for growing low-lin
soybeans. But this year, they might make even
more money growing plain old corn, thanks to the
growing demand for the gasoline additive ethanol.
That presents a dilemma for growers like Dan
Allen, who farms a few thousand acres in Iowa's
"I don't think we've figured out what we're going
to grow," Allen says. "With the profitability of
corn increasing, they're going to have to pay
some real dollars in order to buy the beans to
fill their contracts."
The young low-lin soybean industry will only
succeed if the price is low enough for
restaurants - and high enough for farmers. Allen
says when planting time comes in April, he'll
grow whichever crop makes the most money. But
he's crossing his fingers that the low-lin
soybeans catch on.
After all, he says, "I eat French fries, too."
* * *
Why Do Fries Taste So Good? A Brief History
by Scott Horsley
The signature taste of fast-food fries came about as something of an accident.
The signature taste of fast-food fries
came about as something of an accident. Stephen
Finding a healthier cooking oil that still
preserves that crispy, salty French fry goodness
fast-food lovers crave won't be easy. But
McDonald's - and the rest of the industry - has
been through this before.
In fact, the signature taste of McDonald's fries
came about as something of an accident.
By the 1950s, most other restaurants were using
pure vegetable oil, partially hydrogenated to
extend its shelf life. But the tiny shortening
company that originally supplied McDonald's -
Interstate Foods - was too small to afford
hydrogenation equipment. So Interstate founder
Harry Smargon turned to a centuries-old
alternative: a blend of oil and beef fat.
As John F. Love wrote in his history, McDonald's:
Behind the Arches, that beef-fat flavor would
become the standard, not only for McDonald's but
the rest of the growing fast-food industry.
"For reasons even he finds hard to explain,
Smargon insisted that Interstate's shortening
blend produced a crisper and more flavorful
French fry than one cooked in all-vegetable
shortening," Love says.
McDonald's founder Ray Kroc agreed. And that
beef-fat blend dominated until the late 1980s,
when fast-food companies were finally forced to
switch to pure vegetable oil, out of concern that
the saturated fat in beef tallow raises
cholesterol. Even as they made the change, most
restaurants tried to preserve the familiar
beef-fat flavor of their French fries.
McDonald's, for one, continued to use essence of
beef in its fries to retain some of the original
flavor, though it failed to disclose it -
prompting a lawsuit from vegetarians and Hindus,
who consider cows sacred and don't eat beef.
But in switching to vegetable oil, fast-food
chains also adopted the chemical process of
adding hydrogen to the oil to extend its fry
life. It's now known that the trans fats created
by this partial hydrogenation are as bad for you,
and possibly worse, than the saturated fats they
replaced. Trans fats not only raise bad
cholesterol levels, which increase the risk of
coronary heart disease, but lower good
cholesterol levels as well. As a result,
McDonald's and other fast-food companies are
under pressure to switch again.
In the meantime, some say a new generation of
customers has grown accustomed to the taste of
potatoes fried in partially hydrogenated oil.
"Right now, we get requests for a flavor profile,
and we realize it's the minor components of
hydrogenation that are imparting the flavor,"
says Research Vice President Mark Matlock of
Archer Daniels Midland. "So they really want
'hydro flavor' in their product."
Still, lessons from another fast-food staple
offer hope for a healthy and tasty outcome. When
KFC decided to eliminate trans fats, the company
stuck with a soybean oil similar to what it had
been using, but with one major change: It's not
made from partially hydrogenated oil, the source
of trans fats.
Gregg Dedrick, president of KFC, said their fried
chicken's "flavor profile" was unchanged. KFC
carried out in-store testing and let customers
taste chicken cooked in both the previous oil and
the new, healthier oil. The result? They couldn't
taste any difference, Dedrick says.
Copyright 2007 NPR
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