USDA funds soybean oils designed to replace trans fats

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Trans fat

Asoyia has been awarded a $300,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to market its low linolenic soybean oils which offer an alternative to trans fats.

Asoyia CEO, Greg Keeley, said the company will use the funds for marketing its newest product, Asoyia Mid Oleic Ultra Low Linolenic Soybean Oil (Asoyia-MO), which was launched earlier this year.

This is the latest generation of Asoyia’s Ultra Low Lin Oil, which the company introduced to the market in 2004. These are non GMO oils which keep shelf-stable longer than conventional oils, eliminating the need for partial hydrogenation which creates trans fat. The new oil is mid oleic, which gives it further stability.

Soybean oil containing low levels of linolenic acid are commercially available but generally have a linolenic acid content of three percent, requiring more hydrogenation to maintain shelf-life. Asoyia processes its oils from the company's one percent ultra low linolenic soybeans.

Currently Asoyia-MO is being produced in limited quantities until the company determines how much interest there is. Then it will contract farmers to grow the product next spring, depending on demand, to ramp up production in 2009.

However, Keeley told that they were already working with several dozen food manufacturers to evaluate the new product for use in formulations. The main applications are expected to be crackers, cookies and bakery products as well as baby food.

Keeley said: “Ultra low linolenic has about twice the shelf life of other relative products on the market. We believe this new product will extend the shelf life another 50 percent.”

He said that it costs $14.75 a bushel for these specialty soybeans, compared to about $12 for a normal bushel and this would be passed on to the consumer.

But Keeley added: “The potential for these products is very large. There is nine billion pounds of hydrogenated soybean oil being used in the US alone and there are numerous products that are attempting to replace it.

“They are also low in saturated fats and we think that will be the next big issue in the health business and the FDA.

Other crops that are replacing hydrogenated soybeans are from outside the US, such as canola, from Canada and palm oils from Malaysia and South East Asia.

Keeley said: “We are going to see more and more attention in the US market for specialty crops and the USDA recognizes that and they want to promote it.

"Because it's new, Asoyia-MO requires a higher level of sales and marketing expenses to promote the beans to the farm community and our seed partners, and the oil to the food industry.”

Health concerns

Trans fatty acids have been useful in foods due to their extended shelf life and flavor stability. But scientific reports have found that trans fatty acids raise serum levels of LDL-cholesterol, reduce levels of HDL-cholesterol, can promote inflammation, can cause endothelial dysfunction, and influence other risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring trans fat labeling on all packaged foods in 2006, spurring manufacturers to find non-hydrogenated oil alternatives and solutions.

There has also been well-publicized trans fat bans in New York City and Philadelphia restaurants, with other cities including Boston and Chicago considering similar measures.

Asoyia was formed in 2004 by 25 Iowa farmers and is now a farmer and employee-owned company that grows and processes one percent ultra low linolenic soybeans to produce trans fat-free oils.

In May Asoyia announced that it had secured a $4m agreement with two venture capital firms to expand the marketing, research and development of its low linolenic, products.

Producer grants

The Iowa-based company was one of 144 organizations to receive more than $19m in rural development assistance under the Value-Added Producer Grant program. This is for products which are created when a producer increases the consumer value of an agricultural commodity in the production or processing stage.

More than $4.2m was awarded to alternative energy projects. The non-energy business ventures included 1 Soy, based in Missouri, which will receive $49,000 to determine the feasibility of exporting high-value soy proteins to Singapore.

Cultivos Larenos in Puerto Rico will receive a $150,000 grant to fund operating and marketing expenses for hydroponics commodities, which are grown without soil and typically using water instead, such as romaine lettuce and coriander.

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