PHOs are made by adding hydrogen to make liquid oils such as soybean oil more solid at room temperature as well as more stable. However, the process also creates harmful trans fats, which have been shown to increase the risk of coronary heart disease, whereas ‘fully' or 'completely' hydrogenated oil doesn't contain trans fat.
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA about how brands had responded to the PHO replacement challenge, Qualisoy consultant Frank Flider said: “I’d say there were three waves of PHO replacement. In the first wave, a lot of companies switched to palm oil or blends of palm oil with other oils. In the second wave, we saw a lot of interesterified regular soybean oil and hard fat blends, but they were not as robust as PHOs were. Today we are in the third wave, where we’re seeing a true replacement of PHO properties without having to go through major formulation by interesterifying blends with high oleic oils.”
It’s not the most consumer-friendly process to explain - enzymatically interesterifying [using enzymes to rearrange the structure of fats] a blend of liquid oil and a hard fat such as fully hydrogenated soybean oil in order to make it perform more like partially hydrogenated oil – but it really delivers, says Flider.
“If you want a frying oil, the new high oleic oils are great, as the oxidative stability is 2-3 times what you’d get with a regular soybean or canola oil and so that’s the biggest advantage.
“But if you’re looking for a shortening type product where you need a solid fat, you can blend high oleic soybean oil with fully hydrogenated soybean oil and then interesterify the blend to get a more robust performance."
Interesterified products are closer in performance to PHOs than some of the palm oil blends
He added: "Interest is growing as the interesterified fat has more robustness in its shortening properties than some simple blends do.
“Industry is finding that the interesterified products do seem to be closer in performance to partially hydrogenated oils than some of the palm oil blends, and as we’ve been able to demonstrate that the interesterified oils can really be used as drop in replacements for PHOs, I expect we’ll see more demand.
“We’re continuing to look at different applications of PHO and how they can be served with interesterified oils, we’re doing a number of studies with puff pastries and pie crusts and we're also looking at par frying as well.”
What’s in a name?
But what about labeling? While manufacturers using interesterified oils are not required to use the word ‘interesterified’ on food labels, they are required to use the term ‘hydrogenated’ if they are using a blend of liquid and fully hydrogenated liquid oil and then interesterifying the blend, and the word ‘hydrogenated’ is not a food marketer’s dream, admitted Flider.
“The word ‘hydrogenated’ does put off some customers, and marketers are skittish about it, but some are also put off by using palm oil.
"We looked at alternative names [to describe fully hydrogenated oils] with the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils and did some research and consumer interviews and panels and found that consumers actually prefer the word ‘hydrogenated’ to an alternative such as ‘hardened’ oil, so the whole idea of trying to rename it or find something more consumer friendly has been pretty much put to the wayside.”
High oleic soybean oil
High oleic soybean oil – which has 20-60% percent less saturated fat than conventional soybean oil - offers extended fry life vs conventional soybean oil and increased functionality for food manufacturers, he said.
And while the ramp up has been fairly slow – in part owing to the time it has taken to secure global regulatory clearance for the genetically engineered seeds, developed by DuPont (Plenish) and Monsanto (VistiveGold), they are expected to account for 40% of the soy market by 2023, he added.
“We’ve had quite a lot of interest from the food industry interested in using it in high stability type applications. Price is still an issue for the very very large users, but for small and medium size users the adoption rate is picking up quite well.”
The GMO factor
While the GMO factor is an issue for some customers, given that the vast majority of regular soybean oil in the US is from genetically engineered soy crops, it hasn’t proved a barrier to take up, he claimed, although he acknowledged that some high oleic canola varieties are grown as non-GMO crops.
So why not use high oleic canola instead?
“High oleic canola oil was first on the market,” said Flider, “but looking at them neck and neck scientifically, the high oleic soybean oil tends to have a better natural antioxidant package so it’s naturally a better preserved oil. High oleic canola also seems to have a different type of an off flavor, but if you’re used to canola you may prefer that, but if you are used to soy, you may prefer the high oleic soy."
Acreage of high oleic soybean varieties has grown from 50,000 acres in 2013 to more than 625,000 acres in 2017.
Soybean oil sales have been pretty flat in recent years, while some consumers remain suspicious of soy in any form due to concerns about phytoestrogens, despite the fact that the European Food Safety Authority has concluded that soy isoflavones do not adversely affect the breast, thyroid and uterus in postmenopausal women, and the North American Menopause Society says isoflavones do not increase risk of breast or endometrial cancer (click HERE).
That said, work with grocery stores and private label bottlers shows that when soybean oil is labeled as such (rather than as vegetable oil), consumers actually perceive it in a more favorable light, said Flider, noting that 75% of consumers in the 2017 United Soybean Board’s annual consumer attitudes survey saying they are as, or more, likely to buy vegetable oil labeled as 100% US-grown soybean oil.
The survey – which came out shortly after the FDA approved a qualified health claim about soybean oil and heart health - also showed that 73% of consumers rated soyfoods as ‘healthy’ and six in 10 viewed soybean oil as ‘healthy,’ with 25% viewing it as unhealthy and the rest unsure.
Click HERE to read more about Qualisoy, which represents farmers, seed companies, researchers, food manufacturers, soybean processors, agricultural organizations, feed manufacturers and trade associations.