Chemists George Fanta (left) and Kenneth Eskins process starch
and oil together in superheated steam under pressure to form Fantesk, a new
multiuse agricultural product.
A Fantesk-tic Starch-Oil Combo
Thanks to serendipity, the Midwest's two main crops, corn and soybeans,
could soon find new uses in many food and nonfood products.
"Chance favored prepared minds," says Peter B. Johnsen about the
development of a new fat substitute by two scientists at the National Center
for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) located in Peoria, Illinois.
Johnsen, director of the NCAUR, was referring to the creation of a versatile
farm-based product that has many possible food and nonfood applications.
Here's how Fantesk came about.
Two NCAUR chemists, Kenneth Eskins, in the Phytoproducts Research Unit, and
George F. Fanta, in the Plant Polymer Research Unit, were interested in using
membranes as model systems for making natural consumer and agrochemical
products from fatty acids.
They wanted to find some means of making an artificial
membranepossibly a starch-oil copolymeron which enzymes could form
natural compounds ranging from flavorings to fungicides. As a preliminary step,
they processed starch and oil together in superheated steam under pressure.
"What came out of the cooker appeared at first to be a thick, gelled
mess," Eskins says.
Fantesk can be used to replace fat in ice cream and other food
products, for coatings in products such as microwave popcorn, for adhesives in
plywood and hardboard, and as carriers of active ingredients in cosmetics and
As the gel cooled, the chemists were surprised to find the starch and oil
didn't separate. Contemplating and rubbing the cooled gel between his fingers,
Eskins noticed it felt smooth but not greasy.
Surely the components would separate, the scientists thought, if the gel
were melted into a liquid in a microwave oven. But no. And there was no
separation after freezing and thawing. Even when the gel was dried to a solid,
flaky material, the oil remained microencapsulated in the starch matrix.
"That's when we began to think we might have a useful food
ingredient," says Eskins.
They named this remarkable material "Fantesk."
It forms inseparable mixtures of starch and microdroplets of oil and,
because the mixtures flow so easily after being dried and ground into powder,
Fantesk could be a food engineer's dream.
Fantesk could also be a dieter's dream because with it, foods traditionally
high in fat can be low in fatand still taste good. For example,
researchers found about the same taste and creaminess of ordinary ice cream
with 8 to 10 percent fat to be in a 0.3-percent-fat ice milk made with 2
Generally consisting of 20 to 40 parts, by weight, of vegetable oil per 100
parts of starch, Fantesk can be dried and milled into small particles. This
saves the cost of transporting a water-laden product to market. And the easily
flowable powder can later be redispersed in water to make soft gels for use in
products such as low-fat margarines. Or, by heating, it can be converted into a
A variety of potential uses has given rise to Cooperative Research and
Development Agreements with several companies interested in developing market
For example, Seedbiotics of Bakersfield, California, has entered into a
CRADA with ARS to explore ways to incorporate microbial agents and
agrichemicals into a seed coating. Another CRADA, with the Forest Resources
Group of Union Camp in Savannah, Georgia, is for developing adhesives, glues,
and industrial coatings.
Opta Foods of Bedford, Massachusetts, has applied for an exclusive license
for food applications of Fantesk. And the ARS Office of Technology Transfer is
working with several other companies on licensing agreements for nonfood
The presence of oil makes Fantesk act as an emulsifying or dispersing agent,
letting it mix with materials that don't themselves mix well with water. So
Eskins foresees many opportunities as an ingredient in beauty and health-care
products. These would include hand and body lotions and creams, bath oils,
shampoos and conditioners, suntan lotions, lipsticks, eye shadows, dusting and
foot powders, medicinal oils, vitamins, antibiotics, and antifungal agents.
Eskins also envisions industrial applications such as use in oil drilling
muds, adhesives, paint thickeners and removers, inks, toners, polishes, paint
removers, lubricants, and starch fillers for plastics.
Fantesk can be tailored to specific end uses by selecting the best
processing conditions, varying the proportion of starch to oil, and regulating
composition of the ingredientsfor example, choosing starch high in
amylose or amylopectin.
Eskins says, "Under certain conditions, we can produce a nonseparable
formulation of up to 70 parts of oil by weight per 100 parts of starch."
Such formulations may be useful for making dried shortenings.
Volatile oils like limonene, the principal aroma component of lemon, can be
incorporated into Fantesk after it is processed into a powder. The researchers
made a scratch-and-sniff pada thin, dried sheet from the powder and
limonene mixthat released the smell of limonene whenever it was
scratched, for up to several weeks.
In a similar experiment starting with a Fantesk formulation of starch, soy
protein, and canola oil, researchers mixed fresh strawberries that had been
processed through a blender. The film trapped the odor and flavor until
scratched or broken.
Could bread be made in such a way that a just-out-of-the-oven flavor would
burst forth with each new bite? "Perhaps so," says Eskins, "but
we haven't worked on that one."
Eskins sees Fantesk benefiting agriculture by providing a market not only
for farm commodities used in industrial and consumer products, but also for
products that make farming more efficient.
For example, Fantesk could be developed as coatings laced with agrochemicals
to help seeds develop into healthier, higher-yielding crop plants. Such
coatings could contain fungicides, herbicides, nutrients, growth regulators,
and beneficial microbes. Eskins has found that a water suspension of Fantesk
adheres to seeds' natural waxy coatings and doesn't flake off easily when
And speaking of seed coatings:
Why not use Fantesk as a carrier for buttery flavoring on diet popcorn?
"We microwaved some popcorn coated with Fantesk and a small amount of
buttery flavor, and it tasted great," Eskins says.
Though further research is needed, a 4-ounce serving of the experimental
recipe contained just 1 gram of fat. That is far less than the 10 to 15 grams
in a popular microwavable low-calorie, butter-flavored commercial popcorn
Eskins and Fanta have applied for a patent on making Fantesk blends of
starches, fats, and water for diverse uses. By Ben Hardin, ARS.
Fanta is at the USDA-ARS
Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, 1815 N. University St.,
Peoria, IL 61604; phone (309) 681-6356, fax (309) 681-6691.
"A Fantesk-tic Starch-Oil Combo" was published
in the September
1995 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.