Food for Thought: Fat For Thought

The purpose of this article is to discuss various methods by which fat can be replaced or modified in foods and their Kashrus implications.

Olestra: (Procter & Gamble) This product has recently been approved by the FDA and has received significant coverage in the press. This product is a true fat which has been modified in such a way that it is not digested at all — zero calories! — and is one of the few fat replacers that can be used for frying. Concerns have been raised as to possible side effects of the product, but it is now being used to produce fat free snacks on a limited basis. The product is certified Kosher by the OU.

Benefat: (Cultor) This product is also produced from modified oils but is partially digestible. It is presently used in Hershey’s Reduced Fat Chocolate Chips which are certified by the OU.

Simplesse: (Nutrasweet) This product is a microparticulate (very tiny particles) of whey protein which create the slippery sensation of fat by acting as miniature ball bearings in the mouth. Since this product is not a fat, it cannot be used for frying or baking. It is used in ice cream and cheese, and is certified Kosher Dairy by the OU.

Starch Based and Gum Fat Replacers: Several companies have formulated blends of starches and gums to mimic some of the properties of fats. Again, they are not suitable for cooking or frying and are generally used in salad dressings and ice creams. Many are certified Pareve by the OU.

Fruit Puree and Sugars: The puree of certain dried fruits (such as prunes) can impart fat characteristics to baked goods. They are often used in fat-free cookies, as are sugar blends. These ingredients tend to retain moisture in the product allowing for the reduction in the use of fat. Please note that although such products may be fat free, the added sugars used may offset much of the calorie savings from the elimination of fat.

Margarines: One of the first attempts to make a fat substitute was margarine. Butter had become too expensive for the peasants of France in the 1830’s, and Napoleon III offered a prize to anyone who could develop an economical alternative to this diet staple. This new product – margarine – was originally made by mixing tallow and cream and was never a Kosher product. Political intrigue also dogged this competitor of the dairy industry in the United States in the form of discriminatory legislation and taxes – the dairy industry even tried to have a law passed that all margarine be colored pink to discourage its use! Margarine was eventually produced from vegetable oils, much of which is Kosher certified (although some margarine is still made from lard and tallow). Regular margarine is about 85% oil and 15% water based fluid (which often includes dairy components), and has just as much fat and the same number of calories as butter. It was never intended as a fat replacer, although vegetable versions are cholesterol free. Low fat margarine is produced by reducing the amount of fat and increasing the aqueous portion of the margarine. Since water and oil do not readily mix, additives must be used to allow the two to bind together. Gelatin has been used for this purpose, and such low fat margines are not Kosher. Fortunately, recent advances have allowed for other additives to be used for this purpose and these products may indeed be Kosher certified.

Appetize: (Bunge) Unfortunately, not all attempts to modify fats in the diet yield Kosher results. A new process has been developed to remove cholesterol from animal fats. The manufacturer claims that Appetize is more healthful than the hydrogenated oils used in vegetable margarine and shortening since this product contains no trans fatty acids. While this issue is far from settled, it may pose a significant problem for Kosher supervision. Heretofore, Kosher programs had dovetailed with the prevalent notions of healthful foods – vegetable oils were considered inherently more healthful than animal fats. Were an animal fat product to be perceived as a healthier alternative to vegetable fat, Kosher programs may lose some of the synergy that has been enjoyed from health concerns in the past.

OU Kosher Staff