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Edible Oils and fats - trends in raw materials, processing and applications, Cairo, 20-21 March 2007

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This item first appeared in 2007

Ralph Timms reports

The aim of the Cairo event was to provide a good overview of the edible oils and fats industry by covering current processes and products together with a look at future trends. Expert speakers were invited from 11 countries. The first day focused on raw materials and their processing and the second day on applications, both industrial and consumer products. The presentations may be found here.

The conference opened with a keynote presentation from Ken Carlson of Crown Iron Works, USA, who gave an overview of future trends in edible oils and fats production and processing. After setting the scene with a review of prices, production trends and processing costs, he noted that demand for raw materials is outpacing supply, up to 50% of new demand being driven by biodiesel. Raw material prices are increasing and we are seeing reduced income from by-products such as meal and glycerine. Plant capacity is still tending to get larger, although the optimum size may have been reached in some cases. There is a continuing trend to zero emissions and ‘greener’ processing. Semi-continuous deodorisers with reduced energy consumption are coming back into favour for processing multiple feed stocks, driven by the increasing use of palm oil. Another theme, which echoed through the conference, is the desire to eliminate trans fatty acids which has lead to the decline of hydrogenation and the concomitant rise of fractionation and interesterification.

We then had presentations on the main raw materials used in the region. Najah Asad, the American Soyabean Association’s Local Consultant from Palestine, spoke on the commercial and quality aspects to be considered when processing soybeans. He explained the USDA Grading Standards for soybeans and the significance of soybean quality on the yield and quality of the oil. He concluded by emphasising the importance of storing the crude oil properly to avoid oxidation and hydrolysis. He recommended: removing fines and solid impurities prior to storage, filling tanks completely from the bottom to reduce contact with air, keeping the oil cool, using tanks with an inert coating to avoid contact with iron.

Salah Elhussein from the University of Gezira, Sudan, spoke about Middle Eastern oilseeds, both conventional like cottonseed, rapeseed (pictured) and soybean as well as potential oilseeds from the region with promising uses. The chief oilseeds produced in the Middle Eastern region are peanut, cottonseed, and sesame seed with smaller amounts of sunflower seed and soybean. Less well-known oil sources that have strong production potential in countries like Sudan include niger seed, hibiscus, cucurbit seeds and a number of others such as jatropha curcas seeds, and, unusually, insect sources such as citrullus sorghum bugs and water melon bugs, which are potential biodiesel sources and have also been found to possess some interesting biological activities.

Siew Wai Lin from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, spoke about the production and properties of palm oil and its fractions, emphasising the wide variety of fractions now available commercially. Super oleins with iodine values higher than 64, cloud points below 4C and SFC almost zero below 5C are now available. A novel palm olein - nutrolein - was mentioned which has been processed to retain much of the carotene and tocotrienols naturally present in palm oil. Palm stearins have been increasingly used in trans-free shortening and margarine formulations with a trend to produce highly functional hard/low-IV/high-palmitic stearins.

U. R. Sahasranamam from IOI Loders Croklaan in Malaysia, spoke about coconut and palm kernel oils. In step with the growth in palm oil, palm kernel oil production has steadily increased until it is now 4.4 Mt against coconut’s 3.0Mt in 2006-07. As URS said: ‘Take one, get one free - two different type oils packed into one’. Coconut oil is used particularly for oleochemicals and non-dairy creamers and also for traditional uses such as hair oil, frying oil and as an offering in Hindu temples. Palm kernel oil is preferred for fractionation to produce cocoa butter substitutes and he described the various processes used and the quality of the fractions produced together with their applications.

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The morning ended with a presentation from Müjde Olçay of Besler, Turkey, who spoke about the analytical criteria for quality control of margarines, well-illustrated with examples from the Besler factory in Turkey. All aspects of quality control were discussed, from the crude oil, through the refined oils, the blend formulation, the finished margarines and finally to the consumer. She concluded with the message that ‘Quality is defined by the Customer’ and showed how the customer may be the housewife, the baker, the R&D manager, the production chief, the QC manager, the marketing manager as well as the end consumer, each with their different views of what constitutes quality. The afternoon sessions concentrated on processing, starting with a presentation by Gunter Börner of ÖHMI Engineering, Germany, on the potential for reducing bleaching earth consumption. He explained the theoretical background to the commonly used processes by using bleaching process phase diagrams. He concluded that a reduction of bleaching earth consumption is possible by a combination of: process improvements, combining adsorbents and a higher adsorbent activity, particularly by using super-fine bleaching earth.

Andrew Logan from Alfa Laval Copenhagen in Denmark, spoke about the basics of alkali refining and water washing of vegetable oils. The purpose of alkali/chemical refining is to remove impurities from oil, i.e. phospholipids (gums), colour bodies, iron, copper, Free Fatty Acids, solids - meal fines. He discussed the effect of lye excess, the effect of acid conditioning, long-mix and multi-mix (formerly short-mix) processes and compared European and North American practices. He also discussed a multi-wax process for dewaxing oils such as sunflower.

Ernst Münch of Lippro Consulting, Germany, spoke about the degumming of plant oils for both chemical and physical refining. He explained that the gums contain phospholipids, carbohydrates, proteins, metals, soaps, water and a small amount of free fatty acids. Phospholipids have a variety of structures and when they are hydrolysed to the lyso-form they become hydratable. He illustrated his talk with real-life examples and data from three plants processing rapeseed oil using three different processes - water degumming, acid degumming and enzymatic degumming. Finally, he compared the costs of the three processes and plants.

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Ray Cook of Ebortec, United Kingdom, spoke about deodorisation and physical refining. He gave a timeline of the development of the deodorisation process starting from the end of the nineteenth century when an increased population explosion in the USA and Europe fuelled a demand for butter substitutes. This in turn led to processes to improve the flavour of vegetable oils such as cottonseed. Following the theme of reducing or eliminating trans acid formation, he emphasised the effect of deodorisation time and temperature on formation of geometric isomers in rapeseed oil, particularly the formation of isomers of linolenic acid, 18:3, which are being given more emphasis now that trans acids from hydrogenation have been largely eliminated from edible oils in Europe.

The last two presentations on the first day were about oil modification - fractionation, hydrogenation and interesterification. John Harris of Loders Croklaan, The Netherlands, spoke about the ‘Why and How?’ of fractionation, mainly palm oil fractionation. ‘Why’ could be summarised by the desire to add value. Under ‘How’ he explained the theory and practice of fractionation, which in this case means fractional crystallisation. He described and illustrated the different types of crystalliser and the different types of separating process. The talk concentrated on the dominant dry fractionation process, but the benefits of solvent fractionation in certain circumstances were also given.

To end the first day, in a double presentation Wim De Greyt of De Smet-Ballestra, Belgium, standing in for Marc Kellens, reviewed developments in hydrogenation and interesterification with particular reference to increased emphasis on nutritional standards for edible oils. In the context of fat modification this means not producing trans acids, while also preserving micronutrients such as tocopherols and sterols. High quality niche oils also include: diglyceride oils, organic/minimally processed oils and ‘balanced’ oils that have an optimum fatty acid composition. Although low-trans hydrogenation is possible, the possibilities are limited and expensive with either nickel or precious metal catalysts. The use of interesterification and fractionation offers more options at a lower cost without any trans acids at all. This is now the preferred processing option for food oils. The talk concluded with a comparison of enzymic and chemical interesterification. 

The second day opened with a keynote presentation from Michael Bockisch of Unilever R&D, The Netherlands, given by Erich Dumelin. The title: ‘Fat Based Consumer Products - What can we expect?’ led to a wide exploration of trends in Western and emerging countries and what they will mean for the application of oils and fats. Bockisch argued that only food products that are accepted by the trade and by the consumers will succeed in the marketplace. Governments will only be able to forbid, they will not be able to launch products. He concluded that we shall see more products allowing for a better omega-3/omega-6 balance, more products with EPA and/or DHA, even difficult-to-change product formulations becoming trans-FA-free, better texture in fat reduced products, more products where fats are replaced by oils and, because food is highly emotional, the non-GMO trend in Europe will not be broken so that more ‘guaranteed-GMO-free’ sources and supply chains will become available, a continued trend towards ‘organically grown’ raw materials and a still tiny trend towards cold pressed certified-origin seed oils will grow.

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Olive oil is both a raw material for other products and a consumer product in its own right. Vassilis Zampounis of Axion Agrotiki, Greece, gave a wide-ranging presentation of the role olive oil plays in the world market and its particular importance for countries around the Mediterranean. He explained the trade flows between producing countries themselves and between producing countries and consuming countries which do not produce olive oil. Consumption of olive oil has grown in all countries, but particularly in northern Europe and North America, Australia, Japan and Brazil which have not been traditional consuming countries.

Providing theoretical support for many of the presentations, Ralph Timms, a retired consultant from the United Kingdom, gave a clear presentation on the mechanism of fat crystallisation and methods for studying it. Starting with a simple explanation of polymorphism he went on to explain nucleation and growth as key steps in crystallisation. Methods for studying crystallisation may be divided into those measuring the heat evolved during crystallisation and those measuring the increase in the amount of fat crystals. He concluded with examples of the use of Differential Scanning Calorimetry, Jensen and Shukoff cooling curves, Solid Fat Content by NMR and turbidity measurement.

Miroslav Buchmet from Danisco, Denmark, spoke about ingredients for margarine and spreads beginning with an overview of the history and production of margarine. Margarine production in Egypt has been growing from a low base and was estimated to have been 216 kt in 2004 compared with a world production of about 10,000 kt. He illustrated his talk with examples of different margarine products from around the world. Lower-fat products are an important theme and he gave examples of the use of emulsifiers, hydrocolloids and proteins to stabilise the water in lower-fat products.

Erich Dumelin of Unilever R&D, The Netherlands, gave a presentation about life cycle assessments of vegetable oils and spreads. This was a wide-ranging analysis covering the environmental profile of vegetable oils, key process stages, the agricultural system and life cycle assessment of the margarine/spread products themselves. The overall conclusion of the study, which led to Unilever’s current emphasis on sustainable agriculture, was that the biggest environmental impacts occur during the agricultural stage, so that the most effective way to improve overall environmental performance is to encourage farmers to use good/sustainable agricultural practices. Comparing the common oils used, the environmental impacts were assessed as: sunflower, olive and rapeseed oils - very high impact; soybean and palm kernel - medium impact; coconut and palm - low impact.

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Returning the focus of the conference specifically to the Middle Eastern region, Mike Willson, LipoLogic Food Technology Consultancy, USA, spoke about the characteristics and production of vanaspati, ghee, butter and other solid fats. He reviewed key product characteristics, product development criteria, production methods and process regimes, and future trends. He concluded that: the opportunities will increase as the Middle Eastern markets become more advanced; volumes of imported products will continue to decrease as the number of indigenous manufacturers increases; butter, blends and vanaspati will continue to flourish; commodity products will face increasing competition from low cost South-East Asian imports; there is the potential for export growth of the more sophisticated products from the region.

Looking at the formulation and production of fats specifically for bakery applications, John Podmore, United Kingdom, said that the functions of fat in baking is to provide shortening power, batter aeration, emulsifying properties, improved keeping properties, an impervious layer and flavour. He then explained the processing methods and formulations to give the desired structure and plasticity. He gave several examples of blends containing high amounts of palm oil and explained techniques to avoid or minimise post-hardening. Besides conventional shortenings he also discussed pumpable and fluid shortenings.

Hennie Slager, of Loders Croklaan, The Netherlands, standing in for Geoff Talbot, spoke about the formulation and production of confectionery fats. Confectionery fats are used in coatings, fillings, toffees and caramels, and ice cream. They may be classified into three major types: Lauric; Non-lauric, non-temper; Non-lauric, temper. Non-lauric, temper type are particularly Cocoa Butter Equivalents based on fractions of palm oil blended with exotic fats such as shea and illipe. Non-lauric, non-temper type, often called Cocoa Butter Replacers, are produced from oils such as palm, rapeseed and soyabean, usually by hydrogenation and fractionation. New versions are either non-hydrogenated or lightly hydrogenated to keep the trans content as low as possible. They have limited compatibility with cocoa butter Lauric type, often called Cocoa Butter Substitutes, are based on palm kernel or coconut oils and produced by fractionation and/or hydrogenation. They have a zero or low trans content but are incompatible with cocoa butter. He concluded with a discussion of the use of confectionery fats as filling fats and the appropriate choices to avoid problems due to migration.

Concluding the sessions on applications, Adam Thomas of Aarhus Karlshamn UK reviewed the formulation and use of frying oils. Starting with a brief history of frying in which we learnt that the process was known in Egypt at least as early as 1600 BC, he explained that the purpose of frying is to impart a desirable flavour, texture and colour while reducing the moisture content. A wide range of oils and fats may be used, with a need to balance oxidative and shelf-life stability with nutritional requirements. He described the design and use of industrial fryers and the importance of turnover time. Frying life can be extended by the use of various antioxidants or other additives, but most available oil types can be used if the fryer turnover time is less than 8 hours.

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Kath Veal of Leatherhead Food International, United Kingdom, spoke about labelling issues relating to fats and oils. Labelling information is important because of the need to comply with specific or general legislation, increased label awareness by consumers, health and marketing issues. She illustrated the health issue by referring to legislation and labelling related to trans fatty acids in different countries. In more detail she explained the meaning of European Union Directive 90/496/EEC which allows two formats. Group 1 format lists just Energy, Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat. Group 2 additionally lists Saturated fat, Sugar, Fibre, Sodium. Further additional options are to list Polyols, Starch, Mono-unsaturates, Polyunsaturates, Cholesterol, Specified vitamins and minerals. Other countries and regions discussed were USA, Canada, Australia, Mercosur, Denmark, France, and Codex Alimentarius. Other labelling topics discussed were novel foods, GMO, and allergens.

The conference concluded with a keynote presentation by Tom Sanders, Professor of Nutrition & Dietetics at King’s College, London. He reviewed current health and nutritional trends with reference to obesity, nutritional profiling and the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid balance. In summary, obesity is related to the issue of Fat Quantity whereas cardiovascular disease is related to Fat Quality. In graphic detail he illustrated the spread of obesity in the USA, noting that similar trends were now well established in many other countries. Obesity is associated with the so-called Metabolic Syndrome which leads to Type 2 diabetes and Coronary Heart Disease. He concluded that precocious obesity (under the age of 5) usually has a genetic cause, but the common obesity in teenagers and adults is life-style acquired and access to a wide variety of high energy density foods coupled with low levels of physical activity are the prime causes.

Quoting figures from the UK, he showed that total fat consumption has not increased during the obesity epidemic, indeed it has fallen sharply. Discussing the relation of fat to heart disease he concluded that: Decreasing the intake of fat has not been shown to reduce risk of heart disease, But changing the type of fat consumed probably does reduce the risk of heart disease. The changes recommended are: replacing saturated and trans fatty acids with unsaturated fatty acids, increasing the intake of n-3 fatty acids, increasing the intake of linoleic acid. Prof. Sanders ended his talk and the conference with his ideal fatty acid profile of a vegetable oil as:

  • <15% saturated fatty acids
  • 15% polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • n-6/n-3 ratio <10:1
  • 70% monounsaturated
  • Trans <1%

The conference was concluded by Ralph Timms, chairman of the organising committee. He thanked the speakers, OFI magazine for hosting the event and inviting SCI to run the technical conference, and particularly thanked Joanna Pegum of SCI, ably assisted by Mary Timms, for handling the administration so capably.

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