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November 21, 2003

Food companies will test new soy oil in products this year

by Teddi Barron
New soybean varieties developed at Iowa State hold promise for food manufacturers scrambling to remove unhealthy trans fats from their products.

The new soybeans produce oil that doesn't need to be hydrogenated.

The oil passed critical laboratory tests for frying and flavor stability last year, and will be made available this month to many major food companies for evaluation in various products.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said that by 2006, food manufacturers must include trans fat information on package labels. Trans fats may raise blood cholesterol levels and contribute to heart disease. Most trans fats in the nation's food supply are created in the hydrogenation process, which is used to extend shelf life and stabilize flavor in countless baked, fried and processed foods, including chips, snack crackers, cookies, candies and salad dressings.

Manufacturers hydrogenate soybean oil to reduce its content of unsaturated fatty acids, particularly linolenic acid, the primary culprit responsible for causing food to become stale or rancid. Soybeans typically produce oil with 7 percent linolenic acid. The new soybean oil has only 1 percent linolenic acid.

The new soybean was developed through conventional breeding practices by soybean breeder Walter Fehr, a Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture, and Earl Hammond, emeritus University professor of food science and human nutrition. They started working on the project in the late 1960s.

The Iowa State University Research Foundation holds the patent for the 1 percent linolenic acid soybean.

This year, the 1 percent linolenic soybeans were planted and harvested in Michigan by Zeeland Farm Services Inc., Zeeland, Mich. In early November, 210,000 pounds of crude oil were extracted from the harvested soybeans. Loders Croklaan, a producer of specialty and nutritional oils and fats in Joliet, Ill., will refine about 70,000 pounds of the oil for distribution to oil suppliers and food companies that have purchased it for testing. The remaining crude oil will be kept in Michigan until more refined oil is needed.

Interest in the new oil is growing, Fehr said. A major supplier of frying oil last week requested oil for testing. In addition, Fehr will travel to Japan next week to discuss the new oil with representatives of the Japanese vegetable oil industry.

To cut trans fats in products by 2006, the food industry could switch from soybean oil to alternative oils that don't contain linolenic acid. However, the supply of alternative oil is limited, Fehr said.

"There aren't enough acres of alternative vegetable oil crops, like canola or sunflower, to meet the industry's oil needs," Fehr said.

Fehr is working with Iowa grower groups, including the Innovative Growers and the Iowa Quality Agriculture Guild, that will plant the 1 percent linolenic acid soybean next spring.

"This is a special opportunity for growers who already are getting a premium for their non-GMO soybeans," Fehr said. "The 1 percent linolenic acid soybeans will make it possible to get an additional premium for the oil," he said.

Growers will plant about 40,000 acres of the 1 percent linolenic acid varieties in 2004 to obtain the seed needed for large-scale oil production in 2005, Fehr said. He estimated the demand in 2005 will require one million acres of the special varieties.

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