Plant geneticists from the UK’s Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) discovered the new plant strain as part of the organisation’s £1.1M project 3356 to reduce the carbon footprint of the lubricants industry.
Researchers identified a single gene within rapeseed that, when non-functioning, produced oil with lower polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) and saturated fat levels.
PUFAs have a beneficial effect on heart health, when consumed in moderation and used instead of saturated fats, according to health experts, they have also been claimed to improve cognitive health.
UK’s obesity crisis
High levels of saturated fat in food have been targeted by government and lobby groups as one of the causes of the UK’s obesity crisis.
Rapeseed oil has long been highlighted as a lower saturated fat and higher PUFA alternative to other oils.
But, because the PUFA and saturated fat levels have been lowered, the rapeseed oil can be used for cooking without breaking down, Harley Stoddart, HGCA policy research manager said.
“We’ve taken something that’s regarded as quite healthy already and, effectively, made it healthier again [because it can be used for cooking],” he told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
Researchers on the project were originally tasked with finding an alternative for mineral oil-containing lubricants for machinery, he added.
“The project successfully showed that rapeseed oil can meet the specification to be used as a lubricant.
“In addition, while investigating the oil quality, the researchers realised that the oils they were testing would also be suitable for human consumption,” said Stoddart.
Meanwhile, 70% of the rapeseed oil produced in the UK and Europe is used by the biodiesel industry.
However, this is set to change in the next three years when new EU fuel directives are enforced, making it redundant as a biofuel.
“For a fuel to be labelled as biofuel, it has to present a 35% saving in greenhouse gas emissions.
“However, when changes to the European fuel directive [EFD] are made in 2017 this could rise to 60% and that means rapeseed producers will struggle to get a decent price for their crop,” he added.
If the rapeseed oil on the market could be made to have lower levels of saturated fats, then demand for the crop may remain after changes to the EFD are made, he predicted.
“I don’t like to crystal ball gaze, but all sorts of things could happen between now and 2017, but improving the oil for use in food could be a good thing.
“A shift towards edible oils with improved oil profile could diversify the market further and make it less dependent on biodiesel production.”