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Emulsifiers deliver the goods for ultra-low-fat margarine production

Today, a low-fat or light margarine spread is likely to have 40% fat content, and they’re a popular choice for health-conscious consumers compared with their higher-fat predecessors. But what if you could take the fat content down even further to 10%, without affecting taste, quality or mouthfeel of the margarine, wouldn't that be something?


For margarine manufacturers, however, achieving a high-quality, low-fat product can be a nightmare - and here’s why: If mouth-feel, taste, appearance and other aesthetic values didn’t matter, there would be nothing to hold them back. But parameters like these are crucial to consumer demand for spreads – and producers who compromise on them are likely to encounter falling sales.

To make things harder, even if a producer can manage to create the right shelf-life and eating experience, high-quality, low-fat products are notoriously difficult to produce with any stability. Add to that an increasing consumer desire for products with zero allergens, non-GMO ingredients, reduced salt content, less than 1% trans fatty acids and no hydrogenated oils or fats, or hydrogenated emulsifiers and produced from sustainably sourced RSPO-certified palm oil, there’s a lot to consider.


Here’s what to do

It may be quite a mouthful. But with the aid of the right emulsifiers, ingredients and processing conditions it’s not impossible: By utilising the combined benefits of two emulsifiers: mono-diglycerides (E471) based on oleic acids and high polymerized polyglycerol polyricineolate (E476) water droplets of varying size can be created. This allows the emulsion to be much more closely packed, enabling fat content to be dropped to as low as 10%.

In addition, you will need to determine the right fat composition to ensure a smooth and stable product. When creating a low-fat spread, it is important that the fat composition contains more liquid oil than similar high-fat products, because the oil phase needs to cover more water droplets. If the fat phase contains too much solid fat, the smoothness of the product will disappear. Equally, if the emulsion contains too much palm stearin it will tend to become less stable.

You’ll find an oil binder, too, is useful to absorb oil and lower the risk of oiling out, just as adding a little sodium alginate (E401) will enable you to stabilise the water phase, minimising the danger of water squeezeout that could negatively affect the taste and mouth-feel of the finished product.


Pay attention

Most importantly, margarine manufacturers will need to note that the process of manufacturing these ultra-low-fat spreads is the opposite of what is traditionally used when making a 40% spread. So practical experience from producing 40% low fat spreads cannot be used in the production of very low-fat spread emulsions.

Here are a few other useful points for you:

  • The water phase needs to be added slowly
  • Mechanical treatment shouldn’t be too intensive
  • Avoid dead areas in the emulsion tank by using a stirrer that can handle more viscous emulsions (e.g. anchor stirrers)
  • Maintain 55–65o Celsius in the emulsion and buffer tanks to avoid overly thick emulsions that can’t be pumped out
  • Pin machines aren’t necessary
  • Cool the product slowly to avoid it becoming brittle and unstable
  • Packing temperatures don’t need to be very low
  • Determine the right storage parameters to support the journey to the consumer’s kitchen 

That’s the essentials – the rest is up to you! You may also find it useful to consult this article, which provides a more in-depth examination of the challenges I’ve mentioned in this post.

About the author

Anders Molbak Jensen

Anders Mølbak Jensen, is Global Product & Application Manager for Lipid & Fine Foods at Palsgaard A/S. He can be reached at  or +45 7682 7682. Before joining the company 16 years ago, he held various roles as a laboratory, quality control and R&D manager at a large margarine producer for 10 years. He holds an M.Sc in food science and technology from the University of Copenhagen and a Bachelor of Commerce, IT.