Healthier butter-like spreads

Fecha de publicación: 22/09/2022
Fuente: Food Processing
Research chemists with the Agricultural Research Society (ARS) are looking to replace saturated fats found in margarine and spreads with plant-based and natural wax alternatives.

Saturated fats are used as solidifying agents in some of these products to give them their butter-like properties. To create alternatives, sunflower, rice bran, candelilla and beeswax, among other wax alternatives, are melted in hot vegetable oil and left to cool to room temperature, creating a semi-solid substance called an oleogel.

When mixed with water, salt and other ingredients, the substance mimics the role of saturated fat in producing a margarine, spread or shortening that has the desired firmness, mouthfeel, melting point, shelf-life and other properties. It is made of a network of plate-like crystals that immobilise molecules of oil in a gel state and mimic the function of solid saturated fat while minimising the associated health concerns.

Artificial trans fats were previously used for making the products, but were phased out in 2021 over concerns of increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Saturated fats without a trans structure, such as from palm oil and fully hydrogenated vegetable oil, are among the replacements currently used; however, consumers are advised to limit their intake of saturated fats.

Researcher Hong-Sik Hwang from the ARS centre’s Functional Foods Research Unit in Peoria, said: “We think 100% of the saturated fats can be replaced, including saturated fat in palm oil and fully hydrogenated vegetable oil.”

Researchers have so far created formulations from four different natural waxes and 12 different kinds of vegetable oils, including soy and hemp seed oil. Sunflower and rice bran seem to work best, with very little wax needed.

The researchers continue to refine the formulations by blending different waxes with oils to achieve the best combination of properties expected from current spreads. The work is part of a larger research effort at the ARS centre to find value-added uses for both established crops such as corn and soybeans and newer ones such as penny cress and hemp that will benefit producers and consumers alike.

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