Ethyl cellulose

The promise of ethyl cellulose

In the search for healthier foodstuffs, scientists have long looked for alternatives to ‘unhealthy’ saturated fats [perhaps misguided now that so much science is rescinding their bad press] – a task problematic because of the texture that they provide to many foods such as ice-cream and processed meats. New research, however, shows that ethyl cellulose has potential to overcome this issue.

In a paper published March 1 in Food and Function, Prof Alejandro Marangoni, who studies food and soft materials science at the University of Guelph in Canada, reports that by mixing regular canola oil with molecules of ethyl cellulose, they trapped the oil within a solid scaffolding. When used in hot dogs, this gel replaced saturated fats without sacrificing texture.

“It behaves as if it were solid beef fat,” Marangoni says.

Canola oil is widely used in food products, and ethyl cellulose is chemically similar to the cellulose fibers we eat in fruits, vegetables and wheat bran. Similar to regular cellulose, ethyl cellulose is an indigestible chain of repeating glucose molecules; the only difference is that the hydroxyl groups of ethyl cellulose are modified into ethyl ether groups.

Although ethyl cellulose is not found naturally in plants, “it would be similar to eating a small bit of paper,” explains Eckhard Flöter, a food scientist from the Technical University of Berlin. Ethyl cellulose is “generally recognized as safe” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and is commonly used in pharmaceutical capsules and as a food additive in milk products and baked goods.

The researchers are not claiming to be able to turn hot dogs into a diet food. The modified frankfurters have a similar greasy feel and contain the same total grams of fat, but those fats are [so-called] healthier unsaturated ones rather than the artery-clogging variety.

Although other scientists have attempted to gel oils to structurally replace saturated fats, “the beauty here is that they created a food application where the perceived properties for consumers are not significantly changed,” Flöter says. Previous attempts could not replicate desired textures…..

Scientific American: Read the full article

Journal Reference:

Mechanical properties of ethylcellulose oleogels and their potential for saturated fat reduction in frankfurters

Alexander K. Zetzl ,  Alejandro G. Marangoni and Shai Barbut Food Funct., 2012, 3, 327-337
DOI: 10.1039/C2FO10202A
Received 16 Sep 2011, Accepted 01 Feb 2012
First published on the web 01 Mar 2012
This article is part of the collection: Delivery of functionality in complex food systems