Move over, olive oil

Move over, olive oil

Research is key to moving flax oil to the mainstream
January 11, 2014

William Vincent, research and development manager at Shape Foods in Brandon, Man., is driven by a goal: to see bottles of his company’s flax oil right next to the olive oil on the shelves of every major grocery store in North America. It could be a relatively straightforward endeavour, save for a problematic group of molecules that start to break down after nine months on the shelf creating a bitter, fishy taste.

More than 600,000 tonnes of flax, worth more than $500 per tonne was harvested last year in Western Canada. If Vincent’s team can find a way to short circuit the chemistry that is currently keeping their product from the mainstream market, it would mean significant growth not just for Shape Foods — which already sells its products globally and provides 35 jobs in Brandon — but for the entire flax industry in Canada. And making highly nutritional flax seed oil readily available to consumers could help address the chronic lack of Omega-3 fatty acids in the North American diet, a deficiency that is implicated in a host of health problems, from cardiovascular disease to type-2 diabetes.

To better understand the troublesome chemical reaction in their oil, Vincent’s company turned to Oleg Krokhin at the CFI-funded Manitoba Centre for Proteomics and Systems Biology at the University of Manitoba and his suite of state-of-the-art mass spectrometers. As a result of the analysis carried out by Krokhin and his colleagues, the company is several important steps closer to solving the technical problems that stand between Shape Foods’ flax seed oil and the coveted grocery store shelf. Having a better understanding of the offending molecule has helped the researchers develop a simplified test for its presence, which will prove indispensable for flax oil manufacturers. The research will also be critical for identifying ways to eliminate or reduce the reaction that causes the unpleasant taste, thereby extending the oil’s shelf life to the standards required for most large grocery chains.