Canadian food scientists develop eco-friendly substitutes for palm oil
Technique involves transforming liquid oils into solid fats
Food scientists at the University of Guelph have come up with a new method for turning liquid vegetable oils into solid fats. The result is a healthier and more sustainable substitute for palm oil that could be used in prepared foods like cookies and pizza crust, as well as cosmetics, shampoo and toothpaste.
Palm oil: the good and bad
In the 1990s, scientists became concerned about the potential cardiovascular health concerns from hydrogenated, trans and animal fats. Animal fats also created ethical and religious issues for some consumers.
That's when palm oil started to became widely used as an alternative. It was inexpensive, widely available and it had the functionality required for the food industry.
But palm oil came with its own issues. To meet demand, forests in many tropical areas around the world were destroyed and replaced by the more lucrative palm oil plantations. And it turns out palm oil isn't such a healthy alternative after all because it is also high in saturated fats. However, it did fill an important niche.
A solid solution
For Alejandro Marangoni, a food scientist at the University of Guelph, the solution was to find a way to produce solid fat from a vegetable source that could replace palm oil.
In a new study, he describes a process inspired by the way the human body makes triglycerides, or body fat.
Marangoni mixed enzymes with glycerine to turn liquid vegetable oils into solid fats without adding any saturated fats.
This process was tested successfully to produce peanut butter and margarine.
The process is more sustainable and affordable because food producers all over the world can use a variety of oils from crops including rice, cottonseed and peanut. It is unlikely palm oil will ever be completely replaced, so the idea is to simply curb its use.
Produced and written by Mark Crawley