A golden age –food sustainability in the chain

24 April 2017

As consumers become more health-conscious and regulators push for robust legislation to be imposed on the types of foods we eat, it could be argued that change begins at the start of the chain. Lionel Lordez of Monsanto addressed the trend at an industry event, organised by Ingredients Insight, to reveal his company’s future ambitions.

Around this time of year, across the UK and many parts of Europe and the US, the countryside is awash with fields of gold – or, at least, yellow. They are fields of rapeseed, flowering in April and May, after being planted up to nine months earlier.

Rapeseed oil has been in use for years, but its popularity for human consumption has never been greater than it is today. For a long time, its use was more closely associated with biofuel, although that is changing dramatically. Two thirds of produced rapeseed oil went into biodiesel, with the final third being used mainly as a dressing, as it wasn’t then possible to cook or fry with it.

Today – in the UK, at least – you can hardly visit a farmers’ market without seeing bottles of the product bringing colour to stall after stall. And if you frequent any established restaurant, many of them owned by some of the country’s leading chefs, it’s likely it will have been used at some stage in your food's preparation.

Despite its growing popularity today, rapeseed has a spotted history. Likely introduced to much of Europe by the Romans, it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that people began to make use of it more widely, having realised that the crop itself could help better manage the land and improve its agricultural potential.

The oil produced from the crop has had many uses over the centuries, but it is only more recently – in the past  40 years or so – that it has been applied in cooking and used in consumer food products.

Sustainable empowerment

One manufacturer has played a vital role in this, having a long history of innovation in rapeseed crop development and, ultimately, the growing lure of rapeseed oil.

"The aim of the food industry is to work towards removing saturates from fats and, ultimately, to reduce fats overall, in order to meet legislative dietary requirements." 

Monsanto says it is a “sustainable agricultural company” with a mission to “empower farmers – large or small – to produce more from their land while conserving more of our world's natural resources, such as water and energy”. As well as oilseeds, the company works with corn, cotton, fruit and vegetables.

The company was first established in 1901 by John F Queeny and his wife, Olga Monsanto Queeny, first producing saccharine and, later, agricultural chemicals. It wasn’t until the 1960s and '70s that its work really began, establishing an agricultural unit. Today headquartered in St Louis, Missouri, the company has administrative and sales offices, manufacturing plants, seed-production facilities, and research and learning centres in 68 locations around the world.

Food-friendly oil

Monsanto has been conducting research and development for many years with the aim of producing a suitable oil for use in foods. Supported by Ingredients Insight, representatives from the company presented Monsanto's offering to an exclusive gathering of industry experts in London, moderated by 30-year fats-consulting veteran Kevin W Smith. Attendees included Bart Schmal of Hovis; Premier Foods’ Jenny Hardwick and Naomi Shields; and Michael Neville of Kerry Group.

Smith first outlined to the audience the challenges society faces today in its efforts to cut obesity. He drew attention to figures from 2014 that showed 26% of people were obese or morbidly obese in the UK alone: “One in four, which is a horrifying thing,” he said, adding that it is also on the rise among under-18s.

Smith went on to say that the aim of the food industry should be to work towards removing saturates from fats and, ultimately, to reduce fats overall, in order to meet legislative dietary requirements.

“However, it proves a challenge to try to get to where we want to be,” he said.

A HOLL lot of promise

Monsanto’s HOLL business development lead EME, Lionel Lordez, introduced the audience to high-oleic low-linolenic – HOLL – winter oilseed rape oil. He began by discussing four key points about HOLL, and the benefits it offers producers, suppliers and consumers. He said HOLL has a “resistance to cold and diseases, and tolerance to lodging, giving the HOLL V316OL variety good yields and stability of performance”. He went on to say that it also offered high stability to heat and frying cycles thanks to its “high oleic-acid content, and low production of smoke and toxic compounds”.

"When looking at the greenhouse emissions that come as a result of modern farming technologies, our oil performs better than the likes of sunflower oils." 

Healthy oils

For consumers, the oil boasts a raft of nutritional practical benefits.

“The oil produced is low in saturated and trans-fatty acids, with a good omega-6 and omega-3 ratio," said Lordez. "It also has a good organoleptic perception and a better appreciation of the golden colour – the original colour of the French fry – allowing many cycles of frying.”

The process of the oil's development, he said, has taken 20–25 years: “The objective was to improve the fatty-acid profile of our oil. If you look at the improvement of the oil’s genetics, you see that there has been constant improvement in the yield and profitability for the farmer. At the same time, the breeding team has to work on the economy profile to be sure to provide crop stability for the farmer, while looking at the quality aspect of the grain – that means the fatty acid from the oilseed rape.”

As part of the improved stability of the crop, Lordez said, the aim was to help farmers grow oilseed rape wherever possible around the world, in a sustainable way.

“When looking at the greenhouse emissions that come as a result of modern farming technologies, our oil performs better than the likes of sunflower oils. We also use less water,” he added.

He went on to talk about the ways in which the oil can be locally sourced because of its ability to be produced across large parts of Europe.

HOLL and food

“With the new quality of our oils, and the increased oleic content and decreased linolenic acid content, we have given the oil the stability and capacity to be used for heating and frying,” Lordez told guests. “There is a greater presence of omega-3, achieving a good ratio between it and omega-6. The ratio has to be below five and, currently, we are at 4:3. That puts us really close to the specification that’s expected.”

For cooking, the oil provides good stability because of the oleic content and low polyunsaturated fatty acid.

“For frying, we are improving the best profile of our oil,” he said. “We have one of the highest smoking points when we compare our oleic oil to other similar-quality oils. This is especially important when you are producing oils for deep frying.”

The oil is rich in vitamin E, which, Lordez said, is a crucial factor for the stability and antioxidant quality of the oil: “While we move through the frying process, we do lose some percentage of it, but we are still performing better than other oils.”

A panel of consumer experts was established to test the oil and its performance, studying the taste, smell and colour of foods prepared with the oil, among other factors (Przybylski, 2013). Initially, they tested this by preparing fries, fish and chicken. The panel claimed the chicken and French fries were cooked best with HOLL; it said the taste and colour achieved with HOLL was better than the other oils, as was the oil's transparency.

“The clarity of the oil remained with no impurity,” said Lordez. “This would be very important for those using the oil; it’s a sign of its quality.”

The panel was particularly pleased with the fries, as the use of the oil produced the expected ‘golden’ colour of the fry that is appreciated by the consumer. And HOLL kept producing that colour throughout the frying cycle, emphasised Lordez.

Best in test

Lordez concluded by summarising what makes HOLL a prime product in the oil sector. He explained: heat deterioration in HOLL was 40% slower than rapeseed or soybean oils; formation of oxidised compounds was 20% lower compared with high-oleic sunflower oil; fewer toxic compounds formed in HOLL even after 11 days of frying; lower acrylamide formation was noted in fried food compared with conventional rapeseed, soybean, corn and olive oil; HOLL oil exhibited high stability due to its characteristic fatty-acid composition; and it offered good protection against oxidation due to its natural richness in antioxidants, such as vitamin E.

Benefits for consumers were high levels of mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids; an omega-6/omega-3 ratio equal to 4:3, corresponding with recommended intakes; low levels of saturated fatty acids and lack of trans-fatty acids; good sensory perception and acceptability of the oil and fried foods, even after repeated frying cycles; fewer off-flavours produced during frying compared with other oils; and stability of taste and colour after heating and repeated fryings.

Following the presentation, the floor was opened to questions from the audience before the evening commenced with a meal and opportunity to network.

"With the new quality of our oils, and the increased oleic content and decreased linolenic acid content, we have given the oil the stability and capacity to be used for heating and frying." 

Nutritional benefits of HOLL

The use of HOLL oil reduces the consumption of saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids, two fatty-acid types promoting increased blood levels of LDL cholesterol.

The dietary replacement of saturated fatty acids with oleic acid (75% minimum in HOLL oil) reduces cardiovascular risks.

The consumption of HOLL oil increases the intake of fatty acids with cardiovascular protective roles (mono and polyunsaturated AG, cholesterol level, TG level, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes).

The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in HOLL oil is 4:3 – the recommended ratio for maintaining cardiovascular functions (less than five).

The use of HOLL oil allows intake of antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin E.

A crop breeding station.
Rapeseed being harvested.
Rapeseed produces a versatile oil that is fast growing in popularity.

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