(Relatively) healthy, trans-fat free margarine!March 19, 2007
Last weekend’s forum on trans fat, as it turned out, was a lot more enlightening than I originally realised. I now say it was revolutionary. And I am not being sarcastic here. I am serious. Because it has completely transformed my view of margarine.
Well, not the entire forum, but just one small remark that came out of it.
If you recall, I had reported that, according to Mr Wong Mong Hong from the Singapore Food Manufacturers’ Association, there are no hydrogenation plants in Singapore and Malaysia and he said that local margarines / vegetable shortenings are mostly made by a process called fractionation.
It took me a while to find out what this is. Originally, I remembered the word as “factorisation” and, when I did a Google search, all I found was mathematics! And saltwetfish made the same mistake too 😉
Later, when I got the word correct, I found an article in Wikipedia and it was not very re-assuring. It said:
Fractionation is a separation process in which a certain quantity of a mixture (solid, liquid, solute or suspension) is divided up in a large number of smaller quantities (fractions)… Mixtures of liquids and gases are separated by fractional distillation by difference in boiling point.
I was thinking… What? They boil the oil? What sort of crazy high temperatures do they use? Surely that would make the oil super rancid — and far more harmful than trans fats!
How wrong I was! It is actually the exact opposite. They chill the oil!
When I searched further, I was led to an excellent website called Hydrogenated News and there, I found an interview with Edgar Hernandez, consultant with the American Palm Oil Council, and there, he explains what it is all about:
Fractionation is basically a process by which you can separate the oil into two main fractions – one solid, one liquid. It’s a physical process; there are no chemicals involved in that.
Basically, what they do is chill the oil, so when the temperature goes down, the solid fraction starts to crystallize. Then, you remove that solid fraction by filtration, so that’s why you come out with the fractions – one solid, one liquid.
There are no trans; you won’t get any trans fat unless you do hydrogenation. So, the benefit of those fractions is that you can formulate them in specific ratios and final quality to get the functional properties that you’ll need for different applications – for cooking or for cake or bread. There are different specifications for each, so you obtain those specifications by blending those fractions with the liquid or to come out with the final product.
Reading this was like Eureka! A new enlightenment.
It finally answers a lot of questions that I – and, I am sure, others who had been following the trans fats issue – always had.
Questions like why…
- Some brands of margarine claim zero or very negligible amounts of trans fats?
- Some brands of margarine don’t mention partially hydrogenated oils in their ingredients list? (I’ve since discovered, they list “palm oil fraction”!)
- Some brands of bread, biscuits, cookies, etc claim to have zero trans fat even though the ingredients’ lists say they contain vegetable shortening?
I had also heard it mentioned that there are “trans fat free” shortening, but simply assumed that they, in fact, contained small amounts of trans fats – ie, less than 0.5 grams per serving as allowed under US trans fat labelling laws.
Worse, I suspected that they contained interesterified fats, made from fully hydrogenated oils, which appear to be even more harmful than trans fats.
Finally, I reaslised how mistaken and ignorant I had been all along.
I hereby repent. (This is an excuse for me to explain that the original meaning of “repent”, from the Greek word “metanoia” is to change one’s way of thinking, not to beat the heart in regret!”)
And so, I have to stop declaring that margarines are all deadly poisons. Some of them still are, depending how they are manufactured – by hydrogenation or fractionation.
I won’t say they are absolutely healthy either, because they still have some of the other problems associated with margarine – possibly made with poor quality, rancid oils; containing far too much omega-6 relative to omega 3, and so on.
Plus, they are artificially coloured and flavoured. I had read, I forgot where, that food laws do not allow margarine to be artificially coloured, meaning they must use natural colouring. But it seems those laws don’t apply here. The label on most margarines I saw said “artificial colouring”.
So I will not start eating margarine. They still taste awful anyway.
And butter still has lots more goodness, especially if it is organic butter from grass-fed cows. More on that later. For now, you might want to refer to my website article about butter vs margarine.
Even if you disregard the parts about margarine being partially hydrogenated and containing trans fats, butter is still better 🙂