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Vegetable oils are generally liquid at room temperature, so how is it that we have margarine made from sunflower oil and corn oil? The process involved in this transformation is called hydrogenation. Food manufacturers want a solid fat that does not go rancid easily and doesn't have any real taste. Hydrogenation gives them this.
Hydrogenation is a high tech process. Vegetable seeds are cleaned and bleached to remove all colour, taste, smells and impurities. The liquid vegetable oil is then heated to high temperatures and a catalyst (commonly nickel, but could be palladium, platinum or rhodium) is added. Hydrogen is bubbled through the liquid. The mixture is then filtered to remove the metal, leaving hydrogenated vegetable oil.Water, whey, salt, vitamins, colourings, flavourings and emulsifiers may then be added to produce hydrogenated margarine.
The advantage of all this is
This seems like a win-win situation for everyone, but there is a potential problem. The hydrogenation process changes the nature of some of the fats into a form that is not easily recognised by the body (trans fatty acids). We just do not know the long term effect of our constant exposure to these fats, although evidence is beginning to appear linking them to many degenerative diseases.
It's easy to blame the manufacturer, but as long as we, the consumers, prefer to buy long-shelf life products that always taste and look the same, manufacturers will continue to produce them using hydrogenated fats.
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