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National food companies to test Iowa State-patented soybean oil
By DOUG SCHMITZ
Iowa Correspondent

AMES, Iowa — Iowa State University (ISU) researchers are preparing to test their revolutionary, patented trans-fat free soybean oil, which was processed last month into refined oil and packaged for distribution to national food companies across the United States. ISU researchers are hoping to find further success with national food companies that will be using the specially created soybean oil in such products as cereal and energy bars.

“We know that the 1 percent linolenic acid oil performs very well,” said Walter Fehr, ISU’s Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture and research team leader.

“The tests by the food industry will determine if elevating the oleic acid has made the oil even better,” he said. “If the results are positive, soybean breeders will develop varieties with the two traits that can be grown by farmers to expand the market for their crop.”

On Jan. 1, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring food manufacturers to show information about the amount of trans-fats on nutrition facts labels.

The move is the latest in research conducted by ISU scientists to produce soybean oils that don’t require hydrogenation, a chemical process that increases shelf life but produces trans-fats, which are reportedly linked to increased blood cholesterol levels and could likely increase the risks of heart disease.

Most trans-fats in the nation’s food supply are created in the hydrogenation process, which is also used to stabilize flavor in baked, fried and processed foods, including chips, snack crackers, cookies, candies and salad dressings.

Normally, food manufacturers hydrogenate soybean oil to reduce its content of unsaturated fatty acids, particularly linolenic acid, which is the primary component that causes food to become stale or rancid. Soybeans typically produce oil with 7 percent linolenic acid, but ISU’s soybean oil has only 1 percent linolenic acid.

The ISU Research Foundation holds the patent for the 1 percent linolenic acid soybean.

First introduced to the international culinary world in 2003, ISU’s revolutionary soybean oil contains twice the amount of oleic acid found in conventional soybean oil and only 1 percent of linolenic acid.

Fehr obtained a soybean line from scientists at Saga University in Japan with about 50 percent oleic acid, compared with about 28 percent in conventional soybeans.

Since the Japan-ese soybean wasn’t able to be grown in Iowa because the bean didn’t mature before frost and its linolenic acid content was too high to avoid hydrogenation, ISU researchers wanted to transfer by conventional breeding the genes controlling the elevated oleic acid trait into their varieties with 1 percent linolenic acid that are grown commercially in the Midwest.

Last summer, ISU researchers finally had a chance to put their research to the test, Fehr said.

“We planted seed of potential new varieties last spring at Ames and waited anxiously for the harvest,” he said. “The results were better than we had anticipated. The oleic acid of the soybeans was greater than 50 percent and the linolenic acid was only 1 percent.”

ISU’s internationally recognized soybeans were developed with funding from soybean farmers through the Iowa Soybean Assoc. (ISA) and the United Soybean Board (USB).

Fehr said the U.S. food industry’s evaluations would be extremely important for assessing the importance of elevating oleic acid in soybean oil.

“We wanted to find out if it would be possible to make the 1 percent linolenic acid oil even more useful by increasing its content of oleic acid – the same monounsaturated fatty acid found in olive oil,” he said. “We were not sure whether we could combine the two traits in a variety because it had never been done before.”

Linda Funk, executive director of The Soyfoods Council (TSC), headquartered at the Iowa Soybean Assoc. in Urbandale, Iowa, said the ISA has been supporting Fehr’s pioneering soybean breeding research for the last 30 years.

“Once the oils were ready to go to market, The Soyfoods Council developed an awareness-building communications campaign targeting dieticians, food processors and most recently the foodservice industry, as well as the media serving these respective audiences,” she said.

Since it’s been difficult to know what foods are using which oils to eliminate trans-fats, Funk said most companies see that as proprietary information and may or may not even reveal the use of low-linolenic soybean oil on their ingredient labels.

“When a food company does publicize the information, as Kellogg’s did when it started formulating its Pop Tarts™ with low-linolenic soybean oil, The Soyfoods Council spread the news on its website, www.zerotranssoy.com, and in materials where such information is appropriate,” she said.

Funk added that it was important that Iowa farmers and the soybean industry were providing solutions for such a large and important human health issue.

“It demonstrates that Iowa State University and the Iowa Soybean Assoc. are leaders in soybean breeding for novel high-value traits,” she said. “Iowa farmers have been leaders in supporting research for these traits as well as being the first to grow these low-lin soybeans to meet this critical need in the food supply chain.”

More than 73 million acres of soybeans are grown in the U.S. and supplies 81 percent of the U.S. food industry’s needs for edible oils and fats.

Last year, Asoyia in Winfield, Iowa, became the first farmer-owned organization in the nation to grow and market ISU’s 1 percent low-lin soybean oil.

For free samples of ISU’s soybean oil to be used for testing by food companies, contact Walter Fehr at 515-294-6865 or wfehr@iastate.edu

This farm news was published in the July 5, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

7/5/2006