Tuesday, January 04, 2011

How They Are Made - Vegetable Oils.

 It's January and I was bored so just for the heck of it I decided to investigate how vegetable oils are processed  in comparison to coconut oil and good old fashioned butter. Since one of the raging debates in the nutritional world involves advocating (supposedly) healthy vegetable oil  to replace the(supposedly) unhealthy virgin coconut oil and dairy butter it seems like a good place to start.I won't address the nutritional issues(PUFA's versus SFA) but just how they are made.

 Right from the start I was concerned. In all fairness I quick perused lots of stuff online so I make no illusions that the following is an absolute.

 To extract the(vegetable/seed) oil in profitable bulk(as opposed to traditional expeller, screw and ram extractions) industrial processes need to be used.....

"The modern way of processing vegetable oil is by chemical extraction, using solvent extracts, which produces higher yields and is quicker and less expensive. The most common solvent is petroleum-derived hexane. This technique is used for most of the "newer" industrial oils such as soybean and corn oils...."

Unlike unpasturized cream(butter) and coconut crude seed oil is not edible. They have to be further treated with a variety of processes. Soy, for example.......

"The processing of soy oil is typical of that used with most vegetable oils. Crude soy oil is first mixed with caustic soda. Saponification turns triglycerides into soap. The soap is removed with a centrifuge. Neutralized dry soap stock (NDSS) is typically used in animal feed, more to get rid of it than because it is particularly nourishing. The remaining oil is deodorized by heating under a near-perfect vacuum and sparged with water. The condensate is further processed to become vitamin E food supplement, while the oil can be sold to manufacturers and consumers at this point."

Sparged? Further reading indicated this........

"Unsaturated vegetable fats and oils can be transformed through partial or complete hydrogenation into fats and oils of higher melting point. The process involves sparging(water is added to hot oil and steam removes impurities) the oil at high temperature and pressure with hydrogen in the presence of a catalyst, typically a powdered nickel compound......While full hydrogenation produces largely saturated fatty acids, partial hydrogenation results in the transformation of large amounts of unsaturated cis fatty acids to trans fatty acids...."

 I couldn't help but wonder if we were making food or biodiesal? Next I googled  hexane. A hydrocarbon and significant constituent to gasoline hexane is used as cheap, relatively safe, largely unreactive, and easily evaporated solvents the byproduct of refining crude oil.

Sounds like the jury is still out on hexane use.......?

I just get concerned that something touted as healthy can be created using such unnatural, unhealthy means?

 How about butter? Butter is is made by churning fresh or fermented cream or milk. In fact you can make your own at home.All kinds of ways on google. This looked easy and delicious....


How about virgin coconut oil?

"Virgin Coconut Oil can only be achieved by using fresh coconut meat or what is called non-copra. Chemicals and high heating are not used in further refining, since the natural, pure coconut oil is very stable with a shelf life of several years. There are currently two main processes of manufacturing Virgin Coconut Oil:

1. Quick drying of fresh coconut meat which is then used to press out the oil. Using this method, minimal heat is used to quick dry the coconut meat, and the oil is then pressed out via mechanical means.

2. Wet-milling. With this method the oil is extracted from fresh coconut meat without drying first. "Coconut milk" is expressed first by pressing. The oil is then further separated from the water. Methods which can be used to separate the oil from the water include boiling, fermentation, refrigeration, enzymes and mechanical centrifuge.
The method we use at Mt. Banahaw Health Products Corp. in the Philippines is fermentation. The coconut milk expressed from the freshly harvested coconuts is fermented for 24-36 hours. During this time, the water separates from the oil. The oil is then slightly heated for a short time to remove moisture, and filtered. The result is a clear coconut oil that retains the distinct scent and taste of coconuts. This is a traditional method of coconut oil extraction that has been used in the Philippines for hundreds of years. Laboratory tests show that this is a very high quality coconut oil, with the lauric acid content being 50 to 55%. This oil is not mass produced...."

 In fact you can also make your own at home.Rather job intensive but do-able.


 We are what we eat. To each his own but I'm just saying......logic seems to dictate keeping it real(or as close to real) as possible is always the best choice.


Ian - TKOS said...

Good read George. I too am not an expert on the stuff, but I must say that Hexane, much like many hydrocarbon solvents in the same family, are clean evaporators. That is to say they evaporate completely and leave no residue behind. Not saying that it is a good way to deal with edible oils, but I doubt any significant amounts get into the food supply.

George said...

Looks like the jury is still out for the most part? I did post a link that seems to be balanced on the issue of hexane and food production.

Ian - TKOS said...

I somehow didn't read that one link. Yes, it did seemed quite balanced.

With good alternatives out there though it does seem best to spend a little more and avoid risks. Perhaps that will cause producers to just use expellor pressed oils.

George said...

Hehehe...I added it after your comment.No need to schedule eye tests.

Exactly.I do have a bottle of Italian cold pressed extra virgin olive oil in the pantry along with my organic coconut oil. Costs me more but well worth the expense.

Quality over quantity is the way to go with cooking oils.

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