Fat. No one likes it; no one wants it. Diets high in fat have been linked to serious health problems and weight gain. The battle to limit fat consumption is now a billion dollar industry. Low calorie, low fat, fat free, or no fat foods are being mass marketed to legions of Americans who are fighting the proverbial battle of the "bulge." One development in this battle has been the introduction of fat substitutes. Simplesse®, a protein-based fat substitute, is one such product being promoted to help diet-conscious consumers fight weight gain.
Simplesse is a brand-name fat substitute made by NutraSweet Company of Deerfield, Illinois, but it was not the first "fake fat" to be manufactured. In the early 1970s, Proctor & Gamble developed Olestra® while conducting research to develop premature infant formula. Olestra was made by chemically binding a sugar to the fatty acids in vegetable oil to create a substance known as sucrose polyester that looks, tastes, and feels like real fat. Sucrose polyester cannot be broken down by digestive enzymes so it passes through the body without giving off calories.
Olestra was used in ice cream, cooking oil, salad dressings, baked goods, deep-fried foods, and snack chips. Recently, Olestra's safety as a food additive has been questioned by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The Center asserted that Olestra is a chemically altered substance that produces "a new molecule that is totally foreign to the body." Olestra's patent expired in 1994, and Proctor & Gamble still awaits approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Meanwhile, the company has developed Caprenin®, a reduced-calorie fat that is similar to cocoa butter. Caprenin uses two unsaturated fats and acids from coconut and palm kernel oils and is only partially absorbed by the body.
In 1984, inventors Norman S. Singer, Shoji Yamamoto, and Joseph Latella of London, Canada, filed for a U.S. patent for Simplesse. According to the patent (patent #4,734,287), Simplesse is made of egg white and whey, a milk byproduct obtained through a microparticulation process. This process turns the milk mixture into small particles that resemble the texture of fat. Compared to real fat, Simplesse has less than one-third of the calories. NutraSweet compared the fat and calories of a super-premium vanilla ice cream containing 16% butterfat with a similar dessert using Simplesse. A four-ounce ice cream serving contained 19 grams of fat, 97 milligrams of cholesterol, and 274 calories. The samesize serving of Simple Pleasures®, containing Simplesse, had less than 1 gram of fat, 14 milligrams of cholesterol, and 120 calories. However, unlike other fat substitutes, Simplesse cannot withstand heat and therefore cannot be used in cooked items.
In 1990, the FDA approved Simplesse for use as a thickener or texturizer in frozen desserts. The FDA approval confirmed that this product met its "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) standards. Simplesse is marketed as a food ingredient and is currently used in 18 products worldwide.
Simplesse is made out of egg whites, milk and whey proteins, pectin, and citric acids. Whey is a byproduct of cheesemaking. These materials are combined, homogenated, and heated in a microparticulation process whereby the proteins are shaped into round particles that have the texture of fat and that roll smoothly over one another.
The microparticulation process is one that dates back to about 1000 b.c. The ancient Apicius cookbook detailed a mixture of eggs, milk, and honey that formed a custard-like gel (tyropatinam) that was eaten along with cheese. Microparticulation does the same for Simplesse, which is said to create a "creamy" sensation when eaten. After microparticulation, there are about 50 billion balls or particles of the egg white and whey and milk protein substance per teaspoon. To the tongue, Simplesse feels smooth. Norman Singer, Simplesse's chief inventor, says the process rearranges the molecules similar to "winding them up like spaghetti on a fork." Simplesse is considered to be virtually free of cholesterol.
Mixing the ingredients
- 1 Water, gum, and sugar are mixed in a dry blender and then moved to a batch tank. Egg whites, whey protein concentrate, and skim milk proteins are added. The pH, or acidity, levels are adjusted to the mix as it sits in the batch tank.
- 2 Lethecin, pectin, and citric acid are completely dissolved and dispersed so that no particles larger than 1 micron (one millionth of a meter) can be found in the premix before homogenizing pasteurization. The pectin/citric acid mix is then added to the egg white, whey, and milk proteins.
- 3 The premix, a thin, pourable liquid, is warmed by a heat exchanger to a temperature just below the coagulation region of the protein. This is about 165°F (74°C) for egg whites.
- 4 The warmed mix is poured into the homogenizing pasteurizer and heated another 20°F (-6.7°C) in less than 10 seconds. During this time, the mixture is continuously exposed to a uniformly turbulent field of homogenizing force. Half of the protein denatures as a gel and forms beadlets of about 1 to 3 microns in diameter. Some-times the mixture is poured through a holding tube before it is cooled.
- 5 Upon exiting the pasteurizer, the mixture is cooled to become creamy, smooth, opaque, and semisolid. Simplesse is the end product.
Whey is a key ingredient in Simplesse, but it is difficult to convert industrially. Whey is obtained from cheesemaking and contains about 90% water. Removing this excess water is costly, and the water is not easily disposed of without causing environmental concerns. One alternative is to heat the whey to denature and coagulate it. Once done, whey could then be separated into other byproducts to defer processing and disposal costs.
Because Simplesse uses natural and not synthetic products, it is presumed safe to use. However, care must be taken to manufacture the skim milk, whey proteins, and egg proteins in sterile conditions to prevent bacteria from contaminating the end product.
Fat replacers had a market value of about $100 million in 1991, but this is expected to triple by 1996. The market for reduced-fat food products is estimated at nearly $30 billion, making the future of fat substitutes highly favorable. At issue, however, is making fat substitutes more palatable and accessible to consumers. NutraSweet has asserted that full use of Simplesse could decrease American fat consumption by 14% and cholesterol intake by 5%. As of yet, Simplesse has not been approved for use in cooked, baked, or fried food because it breaks down under heat.
Where To Learn More
"No-Fat Foods: Less than Meets the Eye?"Consumer Reports, May 1993, p. 279-81.
DeMoss, Virginia. "Ersatz Fat." Bicycling, June 1990, pp. 112-14.
Kantrowitz, Barbara. "A Heavyweight Fuss Over the New 'Fake Fat'."
Newsweek, March 5, 1990, p. 41.
Monmaney, Terence and Karen Springen. "The Cholesterol Connection." Newsweek, February 8, 1988, p. 56-58.
Segal, Marian. "Fat Substitutes: A Taste of the Future?" FDA Consumer, December 1990, p. 25-27.
Singer, Norman S. and John Michael Dunn. "Protein Microparticulation: The Principle and the Process." Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 1990, pp. 388-97.
Springen, Karen. "How Low Can They Go?"Newsweek, August 20, 1990, pp. 66-67.
Steacy, Anne. "Fat That Will Not Fatten." Maclean's, February 15, 1988, p. 50.
Street, Robin. "Finally 'Fake Fat' Foods." Better Homes and Gardens, June 1990, p. 32.
Thayer, Ann. M. "Food Additives." C&EN, June 15, 1992, pp. 26-44.
—Evelyn S. Dorman