New Synthetic Unsaturated Fat Stays Solid at Room Temperature

The discovery from researchers in Belgium may eventually replace palm oil and coconut oil in a range of edible and domestic products.
Photo: KU Leuven
Jul. 29, 2021
Paolo DeAndreis

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A newly devel­oped unsat­u­rated fat stays solid at room tem­per­a­ture and could even­tu­ally sub­sti­tute the solid sat­u­rated fats com­monly used by food com­pa­nies, such as palm oil or coconut oil.

Researchers in Belgium who devel­oped the new fat named it Sterolife and in a press release from KU Leuven, the sci­en­tists wrote that it is an odor­less and col­or­less fat.”

We believe that Sterolife will become a game-changer in the food indus­try and in the search for healthy alter­na­tives to exist­ing high-fat prod­ucts.- Eva Daels, sci­en­tist, Food & Lipids research group

Unsaturated fats such as olive oil and sun­flower oil are used by food com­pa­nies for many of their prod­ucts. Still, plenty of food items require spe­cific tex­tures, such as spread­abil­ity, which is a char­ac­ter­is­tic of sat­u­rated fats.

Given its prop­er­ties, Sterolife can reduce the sat­u­rated fat con­tent in prod­ucts with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the qual­ity and tex­ture,” said Eva Daels, a sci­en­tist at the Food & Lipids research group.

See Also: Palm Oil Bans Meet Resistance in Southeast Asia

The researchers explained that Sterolife is made from plant sterols, which are often found in mod­est quan­ti­ties in fruits, veg­eta­bles, nuts and grains.

The use of plant sterols offers ben­e­fits in terms of the envi­ron­ment and sus­tain­abil­ity,” said Imogen Foubert, one of the project researchers. These sub­stances can be found in the bypass flows of exist­ing pro­duc­tion processes.”

Sterols are a minor com­pound that can also be found in olive oil. Clinical stud­ies have shown that the dietary intake of phy­tos­terols decreases blood cho­les­terol lev­els and likely inhibits its absorp­tion from the small intes­tine.

Moreover, sterols have been shown to act as anti-inflam­ma­tory, anti-bac­te­r­ial, anti-fun­gal, anti-ulcer­a­tive, anti-oxi­dant and anti-tumor agents. The total sterols con­tent in olive oil ranges between 1,000 to 2,200 mil­ligrams per kilo­gram.

Foubert empha­sized how the inner sus­tain­abil­ity of Sterolife stands in stark con­trast to the pro­duc­tion of palm oil, the most con­sumed fat in the world.”

Production takes place exclu­sively in trop­i­cal areas and involves defor­esta­tion of the rain­for­est, loss of bio­di­ver­sity and huge CO2 emis­sions,” she added.

According to United States Department of Agriculture data, in the last 10 years, palm oil pro­duc­tion has increased from 56 mil­lion tons to 76 mil­lion tons, with Indonesia and Malaysia as major exporters.

Palm oil is widely used by the food indus­try but it is also found in sham­poo, cos­met­ics and clean­ing prod­ucts. Palm oil is also fre­quently used in sev­eral Asian coun­tries as a bio­fuel for vehi­cles.

Coconut oil is mostly exported by the Philippines, Indonesia and India and, accord­ing to the USDA, in 2021 global pro­duc­tion almost reached 3.5 mil­lion tons.

The researchers at KU Leuven said that the next step for Sterolife is to develop the prod­uct with the goal of bring­ing it to the mar­ket.

The study, financed by the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, will test the new fat to deter­mine if and how Sterolife can be used as an ingre­di­ent in food prod­ucts.”

This new research will ini­tially focus on the exist­ing prod­ucts pro­moted as cho­les­terol-low­er­ing prod­ucts which still con­tain a sig­nif­i­cant amount of sat­u­rated fat,” said Daels. Initially, this will involve mar­garines, spreads and bak­ing prod­ucts such as bis­cuits, muffins and cereal bars.”

We will test how our fat behaves in these spe­cific prod­ucts and, based on this knowl­edge, we will fine-tune the pro­duc­tion process,” she added. There are still dif­fer­ent obsta­cles to over­come but we believe that Sterolife will become a game-changer in the food indus­try and in the search for healthy alter­na­tives to exist­ing high-fat prod­ucts.”





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