The food industry tests will determine if the oil can go where no unhydrogenated soybean oil has gone before--into food products (like cereal and energy bars, powdered cheese sauces and non-dairy creamers) that require more stability than previous unhydrogenated soybean oils could deliver.
This is the latest step in the research at Iowa State University to produce soybean oils that do not require hydrogenation, a chemical process that increases shelf life but produces trans fats. Trans fats have been linked to increased cholesterol in the bloodstream and an increased risk of heart disease. On January 1, 2006, the Food and Drug Administration began requiring food manufacturers to show the amount of trans fats on nutrition facts labels.
The new oil is the product of research conducted in the university's agronomy department by a soybean breeding team led by Walter Fehr, Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture.
Fehr obtained from scientists at Saga University in Japan a soybean line with about 50 percent oleic acid, compared with about 28 percent in conventional soybeans. The Japanese soybean, developed by conventional breeding, could not be grown in Iowa because it did not mature before frost and its linolenic acid content was too high to avoid hydrogenation. The Iowa State research team 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.
"Our 1 percent linolenic acid oil does not require hydrogenation and has been adopted by the food industry in a range of products," Fehr explained. "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. We were not sure whether we could combine the two traits in a variety because it had never been done before."
Much of the research to develop the new oil was accomplished at Iowa State's breeding nursery in Puerto Rico because the Japanese soybean would not mature in Ames. It was not until the summer of 2005 that the team had a chance to find out if their research was successful.
"We planted seed of potential new varieties last spring at Ames and waited anxiously for the harvest," Fehr recalls. "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."
The unique soybeans were developed with funding from U.S. soybean farmers through the Iowa Soybean Association and United Soybean Board. They were processed during June into refined oil and packaged for distribution to the food industry.
Fehr said that the evaluations by the food industry will be extremely important for assessing the importance of elevating oleic acid in soybean oil.
"We know that the 1 percent linolenic acid oil performs very well. The tests by the food industry will determine if elevating the oleic acid has made the oil even better. 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," Fehr said.