USDA's latest dietary guidelines are attempting to teach Americans how to differentiate between healthy unsaturated fats ... and unhealthy trans and saturated fats. The government provides lengthy explanations of how each type of fat affects cholesterol and heart disease... but the basic recommendation is to stay away from foods containing trans fat. Trans fat is found in several of the cooking oils used to fry American dietary favorites, including French fries. But there's a group of Iowa soybean farmers offering a value-added alternative that may change that. Nancy Crowfoot explains.
No matter the health warnings that fried foods contribute to weight gain, high cholesterol and heart disease, a busy lunch crowd at this café still enjoys its onion rings and fried tenderloin sandwiches.
However, these customers can rest easier. The oil being used is from soybeans processed without the addition of hydrogen -- a process that creates trans fat, a major contributor to heart disease.
The manager of the café switched oils, after 20 years of using the same fry oil. Few customers noticed a difference.
Tawana Claypool, manager, Urbandale Café, Urbandale, Iowa: "They're after taste and flavor. One or two of them have made a comment as to the fact that the fries tasted lighter."
This oil may lend a lighter taste to fried foods, but it is different in other ways, as well. It does not come from a giant food corporation. It is produced by a group of Iowa farmers who are looking for a way to increase their income by retaining ownership of their crop from the field through the processing, packaging and the marketing.
What they came up with was Asoyia & which stands for "A soybean in Iowa."
Vivian Jennings, CEO, Asoyia: "We had one of our growers that was growing foundation seed for Iowa State University Research Foundation program and it turned out that this was the 1% soybean which has some unique characteristics in processing that, when you go through the processing phase you get a trans fat free oil."
A 1% content of linolenic acid -- instead of 7% found in conventional soybeans -- allowed for the so-called "healthier" oil processing. The bean variety was released for public use by Iowa State University at about the same time the Food and Drug Administration announced a January 2006 mandatory labeling on food products of trans fat content.
Vivan Jennings, CEO, Asoyia: "When those components came together and we came to a realization that we could actually start to raise these and that we would have a seed source, well then, we moved ahead in a rather vigorous way."
At $5,500 a share, twenty-five farmers invested a total of $572,000 & & and formed a Limited Liability Company.
Tom Howell and his father, who farm 700 acres in southeast Iowa, bought four shares.
Tom Howell, Columbus Junction, Iowa: "We were looking at a way to I guess make more income per acre. We don't have a huge acreage here and it's hard to increase acres lots of times."
To grow the identity preserved soybean crop for Asoyia, the Howells had to obtain a third party verification of the crop being grown, provide the crop's GPS coordinates & and follow a set of growing and storage protocol established by the company.
In 2004, Asoyia shareholders and contract farmers raised just under 10,000 acres of 1% linolenic soybeans. In 2005 acreage increased to 25,000 with a guaranteed premium of fifty cents.
With current oil production averaging 500,000 pounds a month ... the group hired its first marketing director in February 2005 -- to gain entry into the competitive food business on both the retail and wholesale levels.
Richard Lineback, VP of Sales and Marketing, Asoyia: "For us, the food processors market was perfect. They were the ones who were confronted with the labeling requirement. They have the staff that can really research the product and the benefits of our product means the most there. "
Currently, 80% of the company's sales are to food processors. Lineback says industry interest has been high, but he doesn't close every sales call. One processing company that tested Asoyia told Market To Market they liked the test results of the oil and they wanted to become a trans fat free plant by 2006. But they decided to use the less expensive palm oil.
Richard Lineback, VP Marketing, Asoyia: "You know, frankly if a company is looking to use palm oil; Somebody who is looking to use a commodity oil and that works for their formulation and they're happy with the performance, we're not going to win that one."
While palm oil, which costs about one-third less on the world market, is free of trans fat and it gets negative marks from the Agriculture Department. On the USDA's Web site -- clicking on the thinnest slice of the new food pyramid -- the department says both palm oil and coconut oils should be avoided because of the high content of saturated fat, another contributor to heart disease.
In addition to palm oil, Asoyia also faces competition from other trans fat free oils, such as canola, sunflower and safflower. And there is concern the big players in the oil processing business eventually could grow and process 1% linolenic beans.
But the hope is Asoyia is ahead of the "healthy" oil game. There already are plans to expand. This past October, Asoyia joined forces with a Wisconsin seed company to develop and market more varieties of high yielding, disease-resistant 1% ultra low linolenic soybeans.
And there are plans to double the acreage planted in 2006 -- from 25,000 acres to 50,000 acres.
This can be only good news for those consumers who don't want to give up their fried foods.For Market To Market, I'm Nancy Crowfoot.