Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Tuatara: Volume 7, Issue 1, September 1958

The Work of the Fats Research Laboratory in New Zealand

The Work of the Fats Research Laboratory in New Zealand

In 1946 the Fats Research Laboratory was set up as a separate division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, to determine the fundamental nature of economically important fats. Fats are a major source of New Zealand overseas income. Over one-third of the weight of everything New Zealand exports is fat. Only part of this is butter-fat—the greater part is in lamb and mutton carcases, which contain more than 30% fat. Even lean page 7 meat contains more than 5% fat, while cheese is 30% fat. In fact, New Zealand produces, per head of population, over three times as much fat as the United States of America or Great Britain.

Broadly, the Fats Research Laboratory deals with the composition of butter-fat, meat fats and fish oils, and problems associated with them, as well as the problems of fats going rancid, and industrial uses.

The results of the work being done on butter-fat provide fundamental information that the Dairy Research Institute in Palmerston North can put into practical use. For example, butter-fat is harder in November than at any other time of the year. We have found that this arises from a change in fatty acid composition which, in turn, is related to the food intake of cows. This information may provide a means of controlling the hardness of butter. In addition, many new constituents in butter-fat have been discovered, but much research work will have to be done before their significance is known.

On the chemical side, the Fats Research Laboratory is working with the Nutrition Research Department of the Otago Medical School to find out if the constituents in animal fats increase the cholesterol in the body. Just as iron water pipes clog with rust, so cholesterol and other fatty substances accumulate and block up the arteries of people suffering from arteriosclerosis, which is the main cause of death in countries with a high standard of living. The work is important, because some authorities consider there is a relationship between fat intake, cholesterol accumulation and arteriosclerosis. The relationship is far from established, but in view of the effect it may have on fat consumption overseas, the subject is of importance to the economy of New Zealand.

On the industrial side, fats are used in this country for such products as soap, detergents, margarine, lubricants, cosmetics, candles and rubber.

At present the composition of tall oil is being investigated. This is a by-product of the pulp and paper industry. In making pulp the oils and fats in the wood are converted into soap, which is then acidfied with sulphuric acid to give tall oil. Tall oil is like a vegetable oil but is inedible, and contains, in addition, a high proportion of resin. In the United States tall oil production has increased greatly, so that it now ranks third amongst the drying oils used in the manufacture of soap, varnish, paint, oil cloth and linoleum. It is particularly in this connection, i.e. the industrial possibilities for such oil in New Zealand, that work is being done, for up to the present time tall oil has not been recovered here.

A further line of work is on the possibility of producing from tallow a plastic coating for cheeses, to prevent the entry of air through cracks resulting in internal deterioration and off-flavours. This problem of cheese deterioration is being actively pursued by several scientific laboratories in New Zealand. At present only a limited quantity of cheese is packed in plastic bags. However, due to the over-production of cheese elsewhere, New Zealand cheese for export has to be stored longer than desirable, and a plastic coating would have the advantage of preserving its quality.