NYC keeps the cannoli but drops the trans fats

June 29, 2008 6:08:28 PM PDT
Making cannoli is serious business in New York. It's a dessert so tempting that even a hit man in the "Godfather" couldn't leave a box behind. "We're banging our heads against the wall right now," said Manny Alaimo, an owner of the respected Villabate Pasticceria in Brooklyn.

Italian breads and cookies made with the zero-trans-fat shortening just haven't come out right, he said. A few demanding customers have complained about subtle changes in taste and texture, he said.

"It's going to be a really bumpy. People are just going to have to get used to it," he said.

Such fears have kept other cities from following New York's lead.

Family owned bakeries in Philadelphia raised such a ruckus that city lawmakers gave them an exemption from the trans fat ban that passed there last year.

The New York ban may have had its biggest effect on fast food chains, which have transformed recipes nationwide.

Dunkin Donuts eliminated trans fats from its doughnuts in October, months ahead of the deadline for frying oils. The company's cooks began experimenting with a replacement oil back in 2003 and tested 28 different substitutes, sometimes with disastrous results, before picking a new blend of palm, soybean and cottonseed oil.

The company sold 50 million trial doughnuts in secret, to see how customers would react, before announcing it had made the switch.

Dunkin Donuts said customers didn't notice the change. In fact, Laura Stanley, a consultant who has been working with smaller New York restaurants seeking to adapt, says there doesn't seem to be a food that can't be saved.

She worked with a program based at New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn that tested replacement ingredients, held classes, and came up with fixes for recipes that seemed particularly problematic.

"We were pleasantly surprised," Stanley said. "We'd anticipated a lot of problems with flavor, but for most of these items the new products performed fine."

The one disappointment is that many chefs have been turning to products high in saturated fats, like palm oil, as a replacement. Some research suggests those fats might be just as bad for you as trans fats.

But there's hope: a second generation of low-cholesterol oils is coming out now. Stanley said there have been encouraging signs that they might be improved enough to persuade chefs to use them.


On the Net:

NYC Trans Fat Help Center: