July 06, 2003
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore have found a new way to solidify oil at room temperature. The usual way to make plant oils into a spreadable margarine bar is to saturate the oil with hydrogen atoms in a process called hydrogenation. This type of saturated fat has been found to have deleterious health effects.
Biochemist Ram Rajasekharan found that the Indian berry (Garcinia indica) accumulates a fat so hard it has been called "concrete oil." Mixing a small part of the berry fat with a liquid plant oil such as sunflower oil causes the mixture to gel at room temperature.
He and his student later found that any saturated fatty acid that has between 10 and 31 carbon atoms can make plant oils solid. They also found that saturated wax esters which are used by the cosmetic industry could also do the trick. The process could also solidify spilled tanker oil for easier recovery. - Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society.