“Everybody has a certain hesitance,” he told FoodNavigator-USA at the IFT show in New Orleans last week, where Epogee made its debut. “But I’ve been working with it for a lot of years now… and as you become more familiar you become more passionate about it.”
Epogee, which recently secured $8.3m in a round led by HG Ventures that will help it produce commercial quantities this year (initially via toll manufacturers), makes EPGs (esterified propoxylated glycerols) from rapeseed oil that has been restructured in such a way that virtually none of it is absorbed by the body.
Learnings from Olestra
But this is not another Olestra (a hybrid molecule of sucrose esterified with eight fatty acids from Procter & Gamble that attracted a wave of negative PR over its messy side effects... notably anal leakage), stressed Rowe, adding that Epogee does not cause the same gastrointestinal problems.
"We got to learn from their experiences and essentially avoid some things that they did… but we also have better chemistry. Our product is safer in terms of things like vitamin depletion [Epogee does not inhibit the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins], but another key thing is that Epogee is made from fat and tastes like fat.
“Olestra had kind of a weird mouthfeel and for people old enough to remember the potato chips, they didn’t quite taste like potato chips, but French fries or donuts made with Epogee will actually beat regular French fries or donuts [on taste/mouthfeel].”
Have your cake and eat it
EPGs effectively allow manufacturers to have their cake and eat it, enabling them to minimize calories and maximize taste, said Rowe.
“It looks like a white inert solid. No smell, no taste, and it basically takes on the taste of whatever it’s being used in, so for chocolate applications it has this wonderful mouthfeel and long finish and chocolatety taste, and when you’re replacing butter in baking for instance, it has this luscious butter feel.
"Just last week we started producing croissants and replacing 100% butter with two thirds Epogee and one third butter, and we had a blind taste test and trained food people could not tell the difference, so that was really exciting.”
While the food culture has changed since the technology behind EPGs was first developed three decades ago, the fact remains that most Americans are consuming more calories than they are burning off, and many of them come from fat, Rowe added.
"The bottom line is that two thirds of the US population is obese or overweight… and what Epogee is able to do is to allow you to eat the foods that you like and drastically reduce your caloric intake… so we are very confident that there is a huge unmet need.”
Regulatory status, safety
According to a GRAS notice submitted to the FDA in 2015, esterified propoxylated glycerols (EPGs) are produced by a three-step process: First, fats and oils are split into glycerol and fatty acids. Next, glycerol is reacted with propylene oxide to produce glycerol with propylene glycol units (PGUs) inserted on its hydroxyl groups.
Finally, the propylene glycol-substituted glycerol is reacted with fatty acids to produce EPG, which largely resists digestion because the PGUs prevent the digestive enzyme lipase from breaking down the fat.
The FDA says it has no questions regarding the GRAS status of EPGs for multiple food applications including confectionery products, frying, baked goods and baking mixes, frozen desserts and mixes, nut products (including peanut butter), grain products, pasta, granola and snack bars, sauces and gravies, and soft candy.
EPGs have been evaluated for safety at levels as high as 150 grams per day, almost twice as much as consumed in a typical US diet of 2,500 calories per day.
10g of fat typically contains 90 calories (fat has 9 kcals/gram), but 10 grams of Epogee contains just under 7 calories and 0.8g fat (which would be rounded up to 1g on food labels), Rowe explained.
Right now, it would be listed on the label as esterified propoxylated glycerol, which is not very consumer friendly, conceded Rowe. "We're working to get that changed."