Zero Acre Wants to Prevent Chronic Diseases With a New Cooking Oil
- A US start-up, Zero Acre Farms, has ambitions to save forests and improve the health of consumers through a new cooking oil.
- This is hardly newsworthy as numerous start-ups claimed to have alternatives for palm oil, the most popular cooking oil globally.
- C16 Biosciences, No Palm Ingredients and Xylome, Revive Eco, just to name a few, continue to chase the golden grail in a versatile oil which palm oil owns.
Reports from Food Navigator have shown why palm oil alternatives have failed, and what the lessons are for start ups looking to develop a lab grown cooking oil.
“However, according to researchers at the University of Bath's Centre for Integrated Bioprocessing Research (CIBR) and Centre for Sustainable Circular Technologies (CSCT), existing alternatives are not economically or environmentally viable at scale.
Large scale replacement with alternative crop oils such as sunflower, rapeseed, or exotic oils like coconut oil and shea butter presents significant sustainability and technical challenges,”
So what makes Zero Acre Farms any different?
This Food Dive report on Zero Acre Farms painted the usual picture of pioneers, describing founder Jeff Nobbs as:
“having spent much of his life zeroing in on what is making both people and the planet sick, and he thinks he’s found it: cooking oils.
Many cooking oils on the market today have negative impacts on human health, exposing people to chemical compounds that can lead to chronic illness, he said. And to grow the commodity crops pressed for those oils, acres of forest are clear-cut to make way for new farmland. Tackles consumer health from unique health perspective.”
Let’s get one thing straight, the brand “Zero Acre,” is a misnomer unless the company can prove that its raw ingredient, sugarcane, was not part of this.
“sugarcane farming is big business, and it has devastated parts of the natural world. It takes up more than 60 million acres of land worldwide - more than 150 times the area of Greater London. It's often grown in areas where lush tropical forest once stood.
The world's biggest sugar cane exporter is Brazil, where most of the country's precious Atlantic Forest has been demolished to clear space for plantations.”
(Customer service at Zero Acre Farms has responded to this article with a note that the raw material it uses, is certified by Bonsucro. See full email response below)
What has set Zero Acre Farms apart from these other start-ups, aside from the hefty size of initial investments it attracted, is that it appears to be ready for commercial use, targets a huge consumer segment in the US, and has the science to back up the need for a cooking oil that is better for the health of Americans.
While other start-ups chase the golden grail to replace natural palm oil and its many uses in consumer products, Zero Acres Farm appears to be targeting the biggest segment of the consumer industry. Fast foods, which is expected to reach a value of USD 454.3 billion by 2030.
The fast-food industry in the US is also linked to a health crisis. According to this report:
Fast foods tend to be high in calories, fat, salt and sugar, which – when consumed in excess – can be associated with obesity, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, among other health risks.
On saturated fats, fast foods, lineoleic acid and chronic diseases
There are multiple factors in why fast foods are unhealthy. Rather than going into all the science behind high sodium or high carbohydrate meals, singling out the basic side order to fast food meals, the French fry, might make it easier to understand the importance of a healthier cooking oil. It also helps to explain why Zero Acre Farms is different from the palm oil wannabes.
The LA Times reported in 1990, that major US fast food chains, MacDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s switched to vegetable oils to reduce saturated fat in meals by removing beef tallow.
Twenty years later, the vegetable oil replacement for beef tallow, which is corn oil, was reported in 2010 as being the unhealthiest oil due to its saturated fat content.
What goes into a Mickey D’s French fry, the golden standard for fast food fries now? According to All Recipes
Nowadays, McDonald's french fries are fried in a pretty ingredient-heavy oil blend. The blend includes canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, and natural beef flavor.
New research has meanwhile shown that soybean oil, by far the most widely produced and consumed edible oil in the US – is probably not healthy for human consumption.
A 2015 study found a diet high in soybean oil causes more obesity and diabetes than a diet high in fructose, a sugar commonly found in soft drinks and processed foods.
New research shows soybean oil causes genetic changes in the brain, leading scientists to suspect it may be associated with neurological conditions like autism, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety and depression.
What is notable about these two studies on vegetable oils and their possible impact on human health, is that coconut oil, with a saturated fat content higher than palm oil or corn, was included in the study.
Coconut oil, which contains saturated fats, produced very few changes in the hypothalamic genes. The scientists found that the soybeans, modified (genetically modified to contain lower linoleic acid) and naturally grown, had “pronounced effects” on the hypothalamus, which regulates body weight via your metabolism, maintains body temperature, is critical for reproduction and physical growth as well as a body’s response to stress.
In a hugely competitive industry that is heading towards healthier fast foods, US chains like Sweetgrass are experiencing strong growth. Even as Sweetgrass removes seed oils in their ingredients with a switch to olive oil and avocado, Zero Acre had already claimed, to be superior for humans and planet. In the blog on olive oil, Zero Acre claims up to 3% linoleic acid, while palm oil has 10% but olive oil and avocado oil could go as high as 27% and 21% respectively.
These studies must have influenced Jeff Nobbs, the guy behind Zero Acres Farm, whose thoughts on healthy living can be read on his website.
His corporate website Zero Acre Farms targets popular vegetable oils for US consumers with blogs posts asking; Are Seed Oils Toxic? The Latest Research Says Yes, What Are Seed Oils and Should You Avoid Them? To Seed Oil Free Recipes.
The website also questions coconut oil, which is favored by health conscious consumers, and asked whether it’s a superfood or a sustainability issue as deforestation caused by coconut oil production poses a more severe threat to biodiversity than palm oil production.
The science on linoleic acid from seed oils is a complex issue, according to this report from Mount Sinai hospital. Harvard University plays down the effects of linoleic acid on human health with reports that say there’s no need to avoid seed oils with omega 6 fats:
Most Americans eat more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats, on average about 10 times more. A low intake of omega-3 fats is not good for cardiovascular health, so bringing the two into better balance is a good idea. But don't do this by cutting back on healthy omega-6 fats. Instead, add some extra omega-3s.
While its good advice, one has to question why taking sources of omega 3 fats, commonly found in expensive salmon or omega 3 enriched eggs, is even necessary. The average customer at Chipotle or Hopdoddy should not be expected to do a deep dive into their food to figure out how much omega 3 supplements they should be taking to offset the omega 6 fats they just ate.
A Winning Recipe?
In promoting an alternative cooking oil that pitches itself against the Goliaths of the US vegetable oil industry in soy and corn, Zero Acre Farm may face counter campaigns should its commercial success threaten these other industries.
This report on palm oil, as it rose in popularity in Western consumer markets, is noteworthy in this sense.
Successful national campaigns were undertaken to force food manufacturers to remove tropical oils, including palm oil, from their products and to replace them with hydrogenated vegetable oils, resulting in increased intakes of trans-fatty acids, which later became the target of the same advocacy groups. Today palm oil is being touted as a suitable replacement for hydrogenated vegetable oils.
The palm oil industry survived the smear campaigns, as industry stakeholders called it, because the crop is of vital national interests to Indonesia and Malaysia where the industry employs millions of workers.
With its handful of employees, Zero Acre may not have the same foundation to fight from but what is intriguing about Zero Acre, is how the company has managed to get fast food companies onboard.
Endorsements by investors like Virgin, is notable, but what could ensure its success, is if, the Shake Shack and Hopdoddy could buy into Zero Acre across their US locations. In the background is the major US fast food brand, Chipotle, which would make a huge difference if Chipotle made the switch to Zero Acre oil exclusively.
Getting these US fast food chains on-board would ensure its mission to tackle the one contributor to America’s deadliest disease, chronic inflammation, with linoleic acid from vegetable oils as a major contributor. It’s up to fast food chains like Chipotle, Shake Shack, Hopdoddy etc, to ensure that the foods they offer, is as healthy as can be.
Published October, 2023
Zero Acre Farms responded October 24, 2023
Thank you for sending this over.
One call out I'd like to mention is that our company is called Zero Acre Farms.
There is no sugar in the final product of Zero Acre oil.
Additionally, we ensure that the sugarcane used in the fermentation of Zero Acre oil is sourced responsibly. The sugar sourced to make Zero Acre oil is from a sugar mill that is Bonsucro certified.
Bonsucro is a rigorous certification program founded by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that addresses both human needs, environmental health, and responsible sugar production.
A Bonsucro certification includes supply chain traceability to the farm level for the sugarcane and includes specific requirements on human rights and labor conditions.
Please let us know if you have any further questions.