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Crisco's trans fats are transformed

January 25, 2007|David Colker | Times Staff Writer

What would Betty Crocker do?

Crisco, the mainstay of cookie-baking moms for decades, is chucking its original formula to eliminate its much-maligned trans fats.

The decision, announced Wednesday by its maker, J.M. Smucker Co., shows how times have changed. When it debuted in 1911, the queen of trans fat products was hailed as a healthful alternative to butter and lard.

But for nearly two decades, researchers have attacked trans fat, which is vegetable oil treated with hydrogen to turn it into a solid. Food manufacturers favored it because it gave baked and fried foods a more solid texture and a longer shelf life.

But it also raises the bad cholesterol that can lead to heart disease.

Last month, New York City adopted a major ban on trans fats in restaurants, and Los Angeles County supervisors announced they were studying a similar move. Several restaurant chains, including KFC, Wendy's and Denny's, said they would eventually eliminate trans fat.

Orville, Ohio-based Smucker had been working on the new formula since it acquired the Crisco brand in 2002, company spokeswoman Maribeth Badertscher said. It came out with a version in 2004 in a green can, but it was higher-priced than the traditional Crisco. She declined to say what breakthroughs led to the company being able to remove trans fat and maintain prices.

"Now we can offer it in the traditional blue can," she said.

"This is a very big deal," said Penny Kris-Etherton, a professor of nutrition and expert in fats at Penn State University. "It was absolutely the most famous example of a product with trans fat on the market. For years, people who did not want to use lard used Crisco shortening, thinking it was a more healthy fat."

What would Betty do without trans fat? The natural alternatives are still butter and lard.

"They are not so healthy either," Kris-Etherton said. "But I can't think of a good substitute that could be used in butter cookies. They sure do taste good."

So another icon of the kitchen goes down. Next they'll be telling us Betty Crocker never existed.

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david.colker@latimes.com

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