- Epogee Foods has introduced a fat replacer the company claims can reduce fat calories by up to 92% without sacrificing taste, texture or appearance in baked goods, confectionery, frozen dairy and desserts. The product has generally recognized as safe status from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for these uses, the company said.
- The product is made from non-GMO rapeseed oil. The oil is split into glycerin and fatty acid, a food-grade propoxyl link is inserted, and the glycerin and fatty acid are relinked to create a product the company said "looks, feels, tastes and cooks like fat."
- This process restructures the oil so that virtually none of it is absorbed by the body, therefore enabling significant calorie reduction. David Rowe, Epogee's chief technology officer, told Food Navigator the product effectively allows manufacturers to have their cake and eat it too by minimizing calories and maximizing taste.
This fat replacement product could attract a lot of interest since it can be used in a wide variety of foods, according to the GRAS notice filed with the FDA in 2015. Epogee says the product can successfully reduce caloric intake because its chemical composition helps resist digestion. It has also been "rigorously tested" in more than 60 studies and for safety at up to 150 grams daily — about twice the amount consumed in a typical U.S. diet, according to the company.
The product also hits on a lot of the better-for-you trends that consumers are looking for today, including gluten-free, allergen-free, non-GMO and vegan. It would also interest consumers wanting to cut calories. About 10 grams of fat usually contains 90 calories, while the same amount of the fat replacement has about 7 calories and 0.8 fat grams.
But given the history of fat replacements, there may be skepticism that the product can deliver as promised. Proctor & Gamble's Olestra, which received GRAS status in 1996, provides a cautionary tale.
When Olestra first came out, it was touted as a replacer for regular fat by avoiding intestinal absorption. It was used in some Frito-Lay potato chips and in Pringles Light potato crisps. But Olestra also prevented vitamin absorption and caused consumers gastrointestinal distress. Sales plummeted from more than $400 million in 1998 to $200 million by 2000.
Epogee is actively working to avoid a similar fate as Olestra. Rowe told Food Navigator that Epogee's fat replacement product is safer because it has a better chemistry and doesn't inhibit absorption of fat-soluble vitamins or have the "weird mouthfeel" of Olestra.
The ingredient faces some labeling considerations though. As currently constituted, the product would have to be listed as "esterified propoxylated glycerol," Rowe said, which is not an appetizing description for consumers with a growing interest in clean label. The company is working to change this to a more consumer-friendly term, which could help in getting more companies interested in the product.
Despite the remaining challenges, Epogee's efforts to produce a successful fat replacement product have been rewarded by a recent $8.3 million investment from HG Ventures, the corporate venture arm of The Heritage Group. Epogee plans to use the money to expand current production and speed up its technical capabilities.
Manufacturers have been focusing on replacing partially hydrogenated oils in their formulations since the FDA revoked GRAS status for them in 2015. But many have switched to healthier fats and oils rather than using branded fat replacements created in a lab. Cargill released a hybrid canola oil last year with reduced saturated fat, allowing manufacturers to cut the molecule in their products by about 35%. Yet such efforts, while helpful to calorie-counting consumers, can't match Epogee's claim that its product can reduce fat calories by up to 92%.
Epogee seems confident its fat replacer is a unique product, and Rowe said he isn't aware of any other technology that has better effectiveness, versatility and safety. If those claims are true — and no other competitors emerge to challenge the product — Epogee may have a popular ingredient for food makers, retailers and consumers.