Introduction

The functionality of fats and oils in food products is twofold. These two main, unfortunately contradicting, aspects are nutrition and physical structure - related to oils and fats (solids) respectively. The term oil implies compositions essentially free of solid material at ambient temperature. Fats in contrast are at least semi-solid lipid materials. The physical functionality of fats is strongly related to the presence of saturated and trans fatty acids (TFA). These types of fatty acids do not, except for the delivery of energy, contribute much to the nutritional value of a food product. An often cited paper in 1993 (Willet et al., 1993) is the starting point for the significant attention that the negative health effects of dietary TFA have received over the last decade. As a result of subsequent studies and publications it is widely agreed that a limitation of the intake of TFA is desirable. Fats high in saturated and/or trans fatty acids are used to give structure to semi-solid food emulsions like margarines, spreads and shortenings. In these emulsions the other main components are oil and water. A reduction of the energy content of such emulsions, for weight control, can be obtained by reducing the total oil and fat content. In such an exercise, the remaining oils and fats mixture should still be balanced for nutritional value (fatty acid composition) and should have sufficient structure to maintain the physical properties of the product. This chapter discusses the structuring functionality of different fat compositions with special attention to the role of TFA and their possible elimination.

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