Fats and Oils from both animal and vegetables sources can be found in all types of processed food products for a range of different reasons. Fats are included in food products in liquid, solid or powdered fats from vegetable, plant and animal sources.
Fats perform a number of functions in food products including –
- Being a carrier for flavour and aroma.
- Provide a rich creamy mouthfeel (especially important in baked goods, creams and fillings).
- Help to provide stable aeration (whipped cream, meringue).
- Tenderise products by separating layers, providing light flaky textures (in pastries, potato chips, deep fried products and baked snacks).
- Assist in heat transfer during processing such as frying which contributes to colour development during cooking.
- Aids in maintaining eating quality over the shelf life.
Another word for fat that you may have heard is Lipid. The term fat is used when in a solid state but fats are called oils when they are in liquid states. Each fat has a different melting point depending on their molecular structure. The most common fats used in food products include those you would recognise from your own pantry and some that you may not –
Animal Fats include – Milk fat (Butter), Beef fat (Tallow), and Pork fat (Lard). Processed Meat products often contain additional meat fat from their meat source (e.g. beef fat in a beef sausage) and products can contain naturally occurring or added fats from marine sources (such as Omega 3 & Omega 6 Oils) in their products (e.g. Omega 3 in margarines or bread).
Vegetable & Plant Fats can come from a range of sources. Liquid Oils are extracted from corn, soybeans, cottonseed, rapeseed (canola), sunflower, rice bran, safflower, fruits such as olives, avocado, nuts & seed oils from almonds, macadamia, walnut, peanuts, pine nuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds. Tropical oils are extracted or pressed from coconut, palm kernels, cocoa beans (Cocoa butter).
Fat Processing –
Before foods became mass produced there was no need to refine fats and oils as they would usually be used shortly after being extracted. These days however, manufacturers choose to use fats and oils that have had further processing steps to ensure they are providing their customers with the highest quality finished product.
When using fats in the food industry some manufacturers prefer to use fats and oils that have been bleached, removing the colour or aroma of the original ingredient so as to not compete with the final flavour of the finished product. This is done by adding a variety of bleaching agents which are then removed by filtration before use. Deodorization can also be used to remove undesirable flavours and odours from fats and oils.
Rancidity of fats and oils is a big problem. Once fat becomes rancid, the oil or fat becomes inedible and unusable, shortening the shelf life of the ingredient and if used, ultimately the shelf life and quality of the finished product. When using liquid fats for processing, they don’t have the same ability to trap air when beaten as a solid fat. For these reasons manufacturers of these products use a process called hydrogenation to change the chemical structure of liquid fats to make them more solid. This process increases the fats stability, its processing tolerance and reduces the rate of rancidity increasing the shelf life of the fat and many fats and oils are at least partially hydrated for this reason.
Trans Fatty Acids (TFA’s) – Trans Fatty Acids have been gaining a lot of interest in the global media over the past few years. TFA’s occur naturally in foods such as animal products including butter, cheese and meat. They are also formed during the hydrogenation of fats and oils too manufacture spreads such as margarine, cooking fats for deep frying and bakery shortenings. High levels of TFA’s in the diet has been linked to cardiovascular disease and as a result there has been a global move to reduce the levels of TFA’s in foods with some countries placing restrictions on the amount that can be present in foods. Food containing high levels of TFA’s include bakery products, fried fast foods, frozen foods, packaged snacks and spreads.
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