The milk has been developed by Farmright, the firm best-known for supplying Marks & Spencer (M&S) with milk naturally enhanced with long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
Speaking at a round table debate organised by Food Manufacture and hosted by Leatherhead Food Research, Farmright business development manager Lorraine Provest-Eames said that feeding cows a supplement rich in oleic acid altered the way in which fat was produced in their mammary glands such that their milk contained 10-16% less saturated fat.
This approach had distinct advantages over other attempts to manipulate the fatty acid profile of milk through altering cows’ diets, she claimed.
“Research at Reading University and elsewhere has focused on the use of forages or oilseeds to bring about these changes, whereas our strategy is based on the use of a specialised feed supplement that allows much more strategic reductions in the medium chain fatty acids, but also increases the concentration of unsaturated fatty acids in milk without an increase in the trans fatty acids.
“This we believe is a major advantage of our approach, particularly in countries such as the US, Canada and Denmark that have strict regulations on the labelling of trans fatty acids in retail foods."
15% sat fat reduction is realistic
Given the large contribution that dairy products made to overall saturated fat intakes, even modest changes in the fatty acid composition of milk could go a long way, said Provest-Eames.
“We considered a reduction of 15% to be realistic. Whilst you can go up to 25%, the commercial implications become significant and the much more extreme decreases in saturates may lead to metabolic and health disorders in the cow.”
Tests of the milk in products such as butter and cream had been encouraging, she said. “There was a very positive response in terms of taste, texture and mouthfeel.”
Reducing saturates in milk had some technical implications, however. For example, the less saturated fat there is in butter, the lower its melting point, she acknowledged. But this made it easier to spread directly from the fridge.
“The lower the saturates, the softer it is, but we’ve also found that you can use less butter when you are making pastry products such as a meat pie. So while it would be more expensive [gram for gram], reformulation could be more commercially viable because you can use up to 15% less.”
While there had been concerns that reducing saturates might make cream more difficult to whip and aerate, trials had suggested that this was not a problem, she claimed. “Milk with lower saturates does not affect the whipability of cream.”
The milk had not yet been tested in cheese, she said. “It would be great if someone were interested in looking at this. We’re really at the stage now where we want to move forward to take this to the next level with a partner.
"We would be happy to work with any interested parties and see the potential to be in the production of dairy ingredients, particularly cream and butter.”
Unilever vitality project director Dr Julia Davidson, who was also at the round table event, said Farmright’s work was “very inspiring”.
The debate, which will be covered in the June issue of Food Manufacture, was sponsored by Farmright and Rich Products. For more coverage online, click here.