In conjunction with Texas A&M University's oils and fats program, the new test will compare oils based on fat content, fry life, oil degradation, oil usage rate and consumer acceptance.
FryTest.com, an independent company that claims no affiliation with the oil industry, said it plans to test around 18 oils supplied by 12 companies, including products from all the major oil firms, as well as smaller suppliers.
President and chief executive officer of FryTest.com, Stephen Joseph, said that when it is completed, the database will be the nation's sole collective source of information of its kind.
"One of the reasons I set this up is because I kept looking at the marketing on companies' websites, and I couldn't make head or tail of it. Different testing methods were being used, each of which favored a particular product. I wanted to provide a way of neutral testing that didn't favor anyone," said Joseph.
"This will be the central information resource for frying oils. It will mark a big change in the way oils are marketed and found; it completely changes the landscape," he told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
The online database is designed to provide information primarily for the restaurant industry, but is also relevant for makers of fried foods such as potato chips, corn chips and donuts, said Joseph.
FryTest.com contracted with the Texas A&M University Food Protein R&D Center, which on Friday completed the first round of testing.
The oils tested in the first two weeks of the contest included: Cargill's eLitra high oleic canola oil; Carolina Soy Products' Whole Harvest expeller pressed soybean oil; ConAgra's Wesson Crystal Smart Choice cottonseed/canola blend; and Loders Croklaan's SansTrans palm olein.
According to Joseph, a Californian lawyer who has spent years campaigning against the use of trans fats, oils are entered into the contest by the companies that manufacture them, as a sign of confidence in their products. Companies that have been invited but decline to compete in the contest will be identified by a black star on FryTest.com's list of zero trans cooking oils.
The first round of results are due to be published on FryTest.com's new website, launched yesterday, by late December 2006 or early January 2007.
The next five oils will be tested between February 5 and 21, followed by another round of tests in March or April. By June 2007, FryTest.com hopes to have tested around 20 oils.
Other zero trans oil manufacturers on the organization's list are: ACH, ADM, Asoyia, Bunge, California Rice Oil, Canbra, Catania-Spagna, Nexcel, Pyco, Restaurant Technologies, Riceland, Sam's Club, Sysco, Supreme, Ventura and US foodservice.
FryTest.com has not yet disclosed which of the above firms have agreed to take part in the contest.
Testing, conducted on French fries, involves a specially trained Texas A&M sensory panel, as well as a consumer panel, the latter of which is asked to score the samples based on appearance, color, flavor, crispiness, greasiness, and overall liking.
The tests also involve an examination of the fat content of an oil, in order to determine trans, saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat levels. This is designed to ensure a company's compliance with trans fat laws and regulations. Fry life is tested by frying French fries up to 300 times to determine how the oils stand up to heavy duty frying.
Oil degradation is examined to see how each oil changes by developing off-flavors and off-odors in the course of its fry life. Finally, oil usage rate, also known as food to oil ratio, is also tested, in order to determine how much of a product can be cooked by a certain amount of oil.
The website provides the opportunity for oil users to comment on the performance of oils, as well as answers to frequently asked questions, such as price and supply issues. A value calculator is also in the making, which will be designed to determine if companies are getting good value for money in terms of an oil's fry life.
FryTest.com is Stephen Joseph's latest initiative to encourage the consumption of trans free foods. In 2003, he became a key player in raising public awareness against the heart-damaging fats by filing lawsuits against both Kraft and McDonald's over their use of trans fats.
The new website and the expenses of the contest are funded by adverts by oil firms on the site, and by registration fees from firms taking part in the contest. However, only companies that have entered their oils into the contest are allowed to advertise.
In accordance with the US Food and Drug Administration's definition of "zero trans fats", FryTest.com uses the term to refer to oils that contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
To access FryTest.com, click here.
To access the testing protocol, click here.