Recently, there has been growing concern about the negative impact of fats, especially saturated and trans fats, on human health. The association of these fats with cardiovascular and metabolic diseases has prompted legislative measures to limit their content in food products. However, fats play a crucial role in providing desirable functionality, texture, and palatability in foods. This has led the food industry to seek suitable substitutes for unhealthy fats.
One innovative solution lies in the realm of oil structuring technology, where oleogels are emerging as a promising alternative. These semi-solid colloidal systems, derived from unsaturated fatty acids in vegetable oils, offer the same texture and sensory properties as solid fats. In this article, we explore the recent advancements in food technology that focus on developing healthy solid fats from unsaturated fatty acids, with a particular emphasis on galactomannan esters as a novel and promising oleogelator.
The Challenge of Unhealthy Fats
Fats have traditionally been an essential source of energy and key nutrients in our diets. However, the excessive consumption of saturated and trans fats has long been associated with health issues, notably cardiovascular diseases and type II diabetes. To address this problem, regulatory measures have been put in place to limit the presence of “bad” fats in foods. One recent example is Article 216 Bis, added to the General Health Law, which sets a maximum limit of 2% industrially produced trans fatty acids in foods, soft drinks, edible oils, and fats.
Fats in food serve multiple functions, enhancing texture, and overall palatability. Unfortunately, the solid consistency of trans and saturated fats makes them technically essential for specific food applications. Hence, the search for healthier alternatives has become a significant challenge for the food industry.
Oleogels have emerged as a breakthrough technology in addressing the challenge of unhealthy fats. These semi-solid colloidal systems contain a high percentage of unsaturated fatty acids from vegetable oils within a structured network, thanks to the presence of an oleogelator. The result is a gel-like substance with properties akin to solid fats, making it an ideal substitute for various food products.
Commonly Used Oleogelators
Several compounds have been investigated as oleogelators, each offering distinct textural properties. Waxes, such as candelilla and bee wax, triacylglycerols, proteins like pea and whey, and polysaccharides such as ethylcellulose and xanthan have shown promise in structuring oleogels.
A particularly exciting advancement in this field comes from Gabriel Humberto Gómez Rodríguez, a PhD student from the biopolymers research group of the Centro en Investigación en Alimentación y Desarrollo (CIAD). His research focuses on the synthesis and physicochemical characterization of new oleogelators based on galactomannan, a polysaccharide extracted from the mesquite seed (Prospis velutina) endosperm.
Gómez Rodríguez's work involves the transesterification of medium-chain (decanoic acid) and long-chain (palmitic acid) fatty acids, facilitated by enzymatic catalysis using the lipase enzyme. The outcome of this process is the formation of galactomannan esters. These esters exhibit an amphiphilic character, making them compatible with the lipophilicity of oil. This unique property allows them to function effectively as oleogelators.
The Potential Impact on the Food Industry
The development of galactomannan esters as oleogelators holds significant promise for the food industry. These new oleogels could be utilized to replace unhealthy trans and saturated fats in various food products, including cakes, biscuits, margarine, whipped cream, sausages, and cheeses, among others. By adopting these healthier alternatives, food manufacturers can produce more nutritious and consumer-friendly products while aligning with regulatory guidelines.
In light of the detrimental health effects of saturated and trans fats, the food industry has been actively seeking healthier alternatives to maintain the desired functionality, texture, and palatability in food products. The emergence of oleogels as substitutes for unhealthy fats has been a significant step forward. With ongoing research and developments in oil structuring technology, galactomannan esters have surfaced as a promising and innovative solution to this challenge. As food technology continues to evolve, these new oleogelators offer a healthier path for the industry, enabling the production of a wide range of food products that are both appealing and beneficial to consumers' well-being.
Full Citation: Oficina de Prensa y Colaboradores. Oleogeles: Una Alternativa a Las Grasas Saturadas Y Grasas Trans De Producción Industrial – Centro De Investigación En Alimentación Y Desarrollo (CIAD), 14 July 2023, www.ciad.mx/oleogeles-una-alternativa-a-las-grasas-saturadas-y-grasas-trans-de-produccion-industrial.