Coming soon, the ‘Frankenfurter’–ethylcellulose in the oleogel!

Linked hotdogsCanadian scientists have found a way to make frankfurters ‘healthier.’  Healthier??  That’s what they call it.  They use “vegetable oil and a gelling agent instead of animal fat, without altering the texture.”

Why do they call it healthier?

Let’s take a look at what they call ‘healthier.’  They have replaced the animal fat with ethylcellulose in an oleogel, and they insist you can’t tell the difference in chewiness or hardness between this oleogel and regular animal fat frankfurters.  Yes, I know, most commercial frankfurters usually aren’t real food.  They’re made with floor scrapings and bits and pieces that we wouldn’t eat if we knew where they came from, but it is possible to make good healthy sausages–including frankfurters–with meats, healthy fats, and real seasonings.  These scientists seem to be mostly concerned about texture, about fooling us into thinking we’re eating real food when what we really have is ethylcellulose in our oleogel, not food at all.  They praise this new process because they can “easily replace two-thirds of the saturated fat”  and still have “a desirable texture.”  Aside from the fact that saturated fat is not bad for you (if it’s not man-made trans fat), is this new ‘frankenfurter’ really okay just because we can’t tell the difference between oleogel and real sausage?

What foods contain ethylcellulose?

Did you know that ethylcellulose is a widely used food additive?  What foods have ethylcellulose in them?  Here’s just a few in a long, long list of foods where, according to World Health Organization food standards, ethylcellulose may be added: cheeses, condensed milk, sorbets and sherbets, canned or bottled vegetables, pre-cooked pastas, pizza, rolled oats, vinegars, mustards, and soups.  In short, it looks like it’s probably already in many processed foods.  The frankfurter ‘food’ product is just a new place to use ethylcellulose.  We’ve found another good reason, as if we needed any more reasons, to avoid processed foods.

What exactly is ethylcellulose?

Dow Chemical says, “Ethylcellulose polymers are derived from and have the polymeric “backbone” of cellulose, a naturally occurring polymer. They are inert, high purity powders with no caloric value and are virtually colorless, odorless, and tasteless.”  Here’s how they are used: “Ethylcellulose polymers are used in a variety of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, foods, ceramics, pastes, inks, and specialty coatings.”  The process of making ethylcellulose involves many steps, including “treating cellulose with an alkaline solution to produce alkali cellulose, which is then reacted with ethyl chloride, yielding crude ethylcellulose polymers.”  Sounds better all the time, doesn’t it?  Can’t wait to try it?

Well then, what is an oleogel?

Now we get to the real ‘meat’ of the new process.  The ethylcellulose is just part, about 10%, of the oleogel that’s replacing the animal fat.  ScienceDirect says “Oleogels may be defined as lipophilic liquid and solid mixtures, in which solid lipid materials (oleogelators) with lower concentrations (<10 wt.%) can entrap bulk liquid oil by ways of the formation of network of oleogelators in the bulk oil.”

The oleogel that’s used in the new sausage/frankfurter process is a combination of about 10% ethylcellulose and 90% vegetable oil.  The ethylcellulose is apparently an execellent organogelator (what’s that?) for vegetable oils.  It has something to do with turning the oil into a gel, thickening it, I guess.  We’ve seen how ethylcellulose is made, what do they do to the vegetable oil?  The Canadian scientists found that oleogel made with canola oil compared best with animal fat frankfurters.  Here’s a description of the gelation process:

“An edible oleogel comprising an oil, ethylcellulose and a surfactant is prepared by combining ethylcellulose with an edible oil and a surfactant, and heating the mixture to a temperature above the glass transition temperature of the ethylcellulose. Once the ethylcellulose has fully dissolved and the solution is clear, it is allowed to cool and set as a gel. The resulting oleogel is homogeneous, elastic, substantially anhydrous, and has a gelation temperature below 100°C. It can be used as a fat substitute in foods.”

And this is called food??  The scariest thing about the ‘Frankenfurter’ is that this kind of ‘food’ isn’t really new at all.  If you eat processed foods or at fast food restaurants, you are probably ALREADY eating ‘Frankenfoods.’  These certainly aren’t REAL FOOD!

Note: when an oleogel is made with canola, corn, or soy oil, it is also most likely genetically engineered.

Sources:

A K Zetzl, A G Marangoni and S Barbut, Mechanical properties of ethylcellulose oleogels and their potential for saturated fat reduction in frankfurters, Food Funct., 2012, DOI: 10.1039/c2fo10202a
Dow Chemical, Product Safety Assessment, Ethocel ™ Ethylcellulose Polymers
Lakmali Samuditha K. Dassanayake, Dharma R. Kodali, S. Ueno, Formation of olegels based on edible lipid materials
Canadian Patents Database, Polymer Gelation of Oils
Codex alimentarius, Food Additive Details

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3 Responses to Coming soon, the ‘Frankenfurter’–ethylcellulose in the oleogel!

  1. Julian Robert Silverman says:

    I think this is quite a well researched article, though the perspective seems very biased. To answer your question: an organogelator, much like gelatin in Jello (a mixture of water and sugars) is a chemical or mixture which serves to solidify oil mixtures (organo- refers to oils comprised of hydrocarbons and their derivatives, including natural edible oils, and organic solvents). Stearic acid, a natural product derived from most animal fats is a natural organogelators, while ethyl cellulose is a modified or derived polymeric organogelator. While I happen to agree that the perspective on saturated fats is a bit out-dated the focus on texture is more in an effort to study complex mouthfeel properties using scientific means, as well as entice consumers.

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