Cargill has introduced a hybrid high-oleic canola oil to commercial customers that it claims contains 4.5% or less saturated fat. The company said it reduces the saturated fat content in products it is used in by 35% from previous canola oil varieties.
The Minnesota-based company said the new product — to be offered commercially under the Clear Valley brand — maintains high fry and shelf life performance, freshness and taste. First deliveries are expected in early 2018.
"We dedicated 10 years to finding a canola hybrid that could improve the nutrition profile of our oil," Lorin Debonte, the company's assistant vice president of research and development, said in a statement. "At the same time, the canola was bred to meet customer demands — providing high yield and disease resistance for growers and taste, shelf life and fry life qualities for our food manufacturers and restaurant customers."
According to growers, canola is the ideal cooking oil because it has less saturated fat than other common plant-based cooking oils such as olive, soybean, corn and sunflower. It also contains more omega-3 polyunsaturated fats than most common cooking oils.
Canola oil has increasingly been called upon to replace partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) in CPG manufacturing ever since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced in 2015 that PHOs were no longer recognized as safe. The agency ordered manufacturers to remove them from food products by June 18 of this year. Food makers have been replacing PHOs with a combination of either modified canola or soybean oil, or a solid fat such as palm oil.
But today's consumers seem more concerned about reducing the amount of sugar and sodium they consume than about the amount of fat in their diet. Many large CPG makers are cutting sugar to meet consumer demand and are voluntarily reducing sodium levels in accordance with the FDA’s proposed goals for the food industry. Meanwhile, saturated fats are being added back in to compensate, despite U.S. Agriculture Department's recommendations that they constitute no more than 10% of a person's daily caloric intake.
At the same time, public interest is growing in specialty cooking oils, which are often perceived as healthier. Oils made from avocado, sesame, flax, nuts, hemp and grapeseed are attracting more attention, as well as oils from more novel sources, like krill and algae, and berries such as sea buckthorn and juniper.
The methods used to produce and extract cooking oils also are important to consumers. For buyers of specialty oils, extraction methods matter, and many health-conscious consumers favor cold-pressed and organic oils over the use of solvents and genetically modified ingredients.
For packaged food manufacturers, the most important considerations are heat stability, biochemical profile and consistent taste. Canola oil seems to do relatively well in those categories. But much of the commercially grown canola comes from genetically modified plants developed to make them more tolerant of some herbicides, which may turn off some shoppers. The Canadian canola industry acknowledges this but points out that while the plant has been modified, the oil has not.
Cargill noted that its new hybrid canola oil "was developed through traditional breeding methods, with a focus on club root and black leg disease resistance," along with high yield performance. "Growers can add herbicide tolerance as an optional genetic modification, depending on their markets and preference," the company added.
Like many food and beverage ingredients, there's a balance to be struck between positive and negative attributes when it comes to cooking oil. With a lower saturated fat level, there may be concerns about the extraction process. If the saturated fat level is higher, there could be health issues. And some of the healthiest oils — such as olive oil — have a low smoke point, so they're not ideal for high-heat applications.
Ultimately, while manufacturers who use this new hybrid high-oleic canola oil may be able to tout a lower saturated fat level on their product labels, they would be wise to also educate consumers about what this means and why it matters.