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Cocoa butter from cottonseed oil.

It may be possible one day to nibble on a chocolate bar and narrow the foreign trade gap at the same time.

That's because Agricultural Research Service scientists have come up with a domestic substitute for butter, the primary ingredient in chocolate, baked goods, and a variety of other food and nonfood products. George Abraham, a chemical engineer, and M.K. Chang, a biochemist, both at the ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, found a way to enzymatically make a cocoa-butter-like product from cottonseed oil and high-oleic acid sunflower oil.

Cocoa butter is derived from the bean of the cacao plant.

"It's an expensive fat with a fluctuating price," says Abraham, who is in the SRRC's Food and Feed Processing Research Unit.

As there are no domestic sources, the United States shops for cocoa butter around the world. Malaysia and Brazil are the primary suppliers, meeting nearly half the annual U.S. needs.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, imports from all sources in the first 2 months of 1992 were about 19 million kilograms (42 million pounds) valued at nearly $58 million. The previous year, cocoa butter imports totaled about 93 million kilograms (205 million pounds) worth $279 million.

Abraham's product can replace pure cocoa butter in about 90 percent of its uses, he says. Molecules from cottonseed oil and sunflower oil are mixed in a reaction container with a commercially available enzyme derived from fungi. The enzymes cause a reaction that rearranges fatty acids in the oils, resulting in a mixture with many of the chemical and physical properties of natural cocoa butter.

"The reaction takes place at 150[DEGREES]F," Abraham says. "There are similar ways to make a cocoa-butter-like product that don't involve the use of enzymes, but they also don't produce as good a product." Other enzyme processes proposed in the past have been more complicated and used nondomestic oils as starting materials.

After the conversion occurs, the mixture passes through two further steps to separate the converted material from unconverted material. In the first of these two separation steps, both the converted and unconverted material enter a tank and are mixed with acetone solvent. The mixture is cooled to room temperature.

Unconverted cottonseed oil is drawn from the first tank and sent back to the reactor. The cocoa butter product and unconverted sunflower oil then flow to a second tank and are cooled to 40[DEGREES]F. The cocoa butter is recovered from the second tank.

That leaves a mixture of unconverted sunflower oil and acerone solvent, which is sent from the tank to an evaporator that recovers the acetone solvent. The unconverted sunflower oil is heated and returned to the reactor where the process initially began.

Says Abraham, "This process allows continuous isolation of the cocoa-butter-like product with continuous separation and recycling of unconverted material." --By Bruce Kinzel, ARS Information.

George Abraham is at the USDA-ARS Food and Feed Processing Research Unit, Southern Regional Research Center, 1100 Robert E. Lee Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70124. Phone (504) 286-4339.
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Title Annotation:research by George Abraham and M.K. Chang
Author:Kinzel, Bruce
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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