Recent scientific evidence suggests that consumption of trans fat - created by a chemical process called hydrogenation in the production process for longer shelf life - raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol ('bad' cholesterol) levels that increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
The findings have encouraged consumer groups to pressurise the food industry to cut trans fatty acids in foods. By 2006, all trans fats will have to be labelled on food products in the US.
Replacing the role of a partially hydrogenated fat in terms of aerating, emulsifying, lubricating, and providing textural, structural and flavour characteristics is a challenge for food developers. Danisco claims its emulsifier/oil blends are the solution.
"These emulsifier blends with mixtures of non-hydrogenated oil offer the same properties as a partially hydrogenated shortening in most systems," said Jim Doucet, technical manager, emulsifiers at Danisco.
The emulsifier solutions can offer the crystallisation, lubrication and textural properties that customers desire in their baked goods, added David Kappelman, technical manager, bakery.
Uptake for alternative ingredients is likely to grow in parallel to the growth in food makers opting for zero trans fat formulations. Swiss giant Nestlé announced last year that it was in the process of 'reformulating' a number of brands 'to remove or minimise the hydrogenated vegetable fat content'. The principal Nestlé products to undergo changes are Toffee Crisp and Rolo which contain TFAs (trans fatty acids).
Nestlé follows in the footsteps of US fast food giant McDonalds and Frito-Lay North America, a division of PepsiCo, who last year announced changes to TFAs. McDonalds said it would cook all French fries in oil with 48 per cent less trans fatty acids - although according to US consumer group CSPI it has since quietly reneged on its pledge - while Frito-Lay said it would remove trans fatty acids from its salty snacks, including Doritos, Tostitos and Cheetos.
Earlier this year Dutch nutritional oils and fats firm Loders Croklaan said it was looking to target market opportunities in the trans free market through its palm oil based ingredients. The company will break ground on a new plant in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Loders, spun off from Unilever last year, will source the raw material from its new parent, the Malaysian palm plantation owner IOI group. A synergy that is now the backbone of the company's 'Growing with Palm' strategy.
The new factory is earmarked to process some 2,500 - 3,000 tons of palm a day, carving immediate entry for the Dutch firm into the large volume supply of palm oil based ingredients.
"Palm opens real market opportunities for Loders Croklaan, as well as for our client companies who are looking to eliminate trans fats from their food products," said at the time Loders Croklaan CEO Etienne Selosse.
Governments - eyeing their rising health bills - are turning increasingly to food as a means to prevent disease and cut costs. In the US, nearly 13 million Americans suffer from coronary heart disease, and more than 500,000 die each year from causes related to coronary heart disease.
Food makers in the US have three years to get their act in place, with the Food and Drug Administration rules dictating that by 2006 all food labels must list the amount of trans fatty acids.
Brussels has yet to propose an equivalent for Europe, but on a national level certain countries are starting to make trans free moves. From the beginning of June last year Denmark became the first country in the world to introduce restrictions on the use of industrially produced trans fatty acids. Oils and fat are now forbidden on the Danish market if they contain trans fatty acids exceeding 2 per cent.
Speaking at the time, the country's minister for agriculture Mariann Fischer Boel had hopes that the EU would follow suit saying: "It is my hope that we will soon see EU regulation in this field. The next step should be common low EU limit values for trans fatty acids."
Turning to confectionery, last year Swedish vegetable oils supplier Karlshamns launched cocoa butter replacers - Akopol LT15 S and Akopol LT15 E - that have the same functional characteristics as the traditional type of CBR but with a low trans fatty acid content.