Soybean oils may get a boost from research at the University of Missouri. Researchers who have been working for years to create healthy alternatives to trans fats say they have found a way to create soybean oil that has no trans fats, according to a recent release from the American Soybean Association.

Currently, manufacturers use hydrogenation, which creates the trans fats to preserve soybean oil for cooking. Oils with high levels of oleic acid, like olive oil, may be preserved for much longer without having to add trans fats, the release said.

Grover Shannon, a professor of plant sciences in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, along with Kristin Bilyeu, an MU plant sciences adjunct assistant professor and USDA molecular biologist, have found a naturally occurring gene in soybeans that, when combined with another natural gene, increases the amount of oleic acid in the oil from 20 percent to 80 percent.

“By raising the levels of oleic acid in soybean oil, we can effectively create a healthy alternative to foods with trans fats,” Shannon said. “We are working with researchers around the country to begin growing these healthier soybeans and get the soybean oil into the market as soon as we can.”

Shannon hopes the first crops of these healthier soybeans will be available in 2014, with plans to expand production in the next few years. Currently, he and Bilyeu are working on increasing the crop yields of these healthier soybeans so that farmers are able and willing to grow them.

A few facts about soybean oil:

  • Liquid soybean oil is low in saturated fat, contains no trans fat, and is high in poly- and monounsaturated fats.
  • Soybean oil is the principal source of omega-3 fatty acids in the U.S. diet.
  • Soybean oil is the primary commercial source of vitamin E.
  • For baking and frying applications, food manufacturers can choose from a range of enhanced soybean oil traits. The first of these enhanced oils, low linolenic soybean oil, is commercially available and already used in several food products without trans fats.