Tuesday, 15 July 2014

HPB to Subsidise Healthier Cooking Oil at Food Joints

Oil subsidies to promote healthier fare at food joints
HPB wants food outlets to buy palm-canola mix of cooking oil
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 14 Jul 2014

TO MAKE eating out healthier for food-loving Singaporeans, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) will be spending millions a year on subsidies to get food joints to use healthier oil.

Starting this month, the HPB will absorb the difference in cost between palm oil - which is generally used by food outlets - and a healthier mix of palm and canola oil, which costs 20 per cent to 30 per cent more.

The HPB is subsidising wholesale oil suppliers to get them to sell the healthier mix to restaurants, hawker stalls and other food outlets at the same price as palm oil. The aim is to get 20 per cent of food outlets to switch from palm oil to the canola mix by 2020.

Palm oil is the cheapest cooking oil and costs around $6 to $8 for a two-litre bottle in retail shops. But it has 50 per cent saturated fat, clogs up the arteries and can lead to heart attacks and stroke.

The canola and palm oil mix reduces the fat saturation to 38 per cent.

The HPB hopes that this will make a huge difference to diners' health - provided they do not use it as an excuse to eat more deep-fried food.

Said Mr Zee Yoong Kang, HPB's chief executive officer: "By the time the oil gets down to the individual plate, we're being literally poisoned for one or two cents a plate.

"But if you sell 5,000 plates, it makes an appreciable difference to the bottom line."

One of the oil suppliers involved in the scheme is Sime Darby. Its marketing manager, Ms Valerie Ong, said that some food outlets will go for the healthier oil if it does not cost them more. But others may resist, fearing it could affect the standard or taste of their food.

Mr Zee, however, said that tests have shown that people cannot taste any difference when palm oil is replaced with the healthier mix.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong had said in Parliament last week that the Government would work with community partners to make healthy living as "effortless as possible".

But experts are divided on how effective the scheme will be.

Cardiologists The Straits Times spoke to said that even with the saturation at 38 per cent, deep-fried foods are still bad for health, though nutrition scientist Jeyakumar Henry said there will be benefits on a national level.

Said Dr Chin Chee Tang of the National Heart Centre Singapore: "A slight decrease in the percentage of saturated fats in the cooking oil would probably not have a substantial effect on the overall healthiness of the dish. More relevant would be the food that is being cooked in the oil - as well as the amount of salt and sugar used."

But Professor Henry, director of the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre, which was set up by the National University Health System and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, said: "It will not be the panacea for all ailments, but it is a move in the right direction and the HPB should be lauded for its initiative."

Ms Ong suggested using soya oil instead, as it costs less than half the price of canola. But Prof Henry said soya does not have the same heart-healthy benefits as canola, which contains omega-3, omega-6 and alpha-linolenic acid.

Eateries divided on trying healthier oil option
Businesses welcome HPB subsidy but concerns such as cost and taste persist
By Aw Cheng Wei And Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 17 Jul 2014

HAWKERS and restaurants welcomed a move by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) to subsidise a healthier palm-canola oil mix in principle but also expressed worries about switching to the unfamiliar blend.

Some 30 hawkers and restaurants The Straits Times spoke to cited concerns such as affordability, frequency of deliveries and even details such as the oil's smoking point.

The Straits Times reported on Monday that HPB would be spending millions a year on subsidies to absorb the price difference between palm oil and a healthier palm and canola oil mix, which costs 20 per cent to 30 per cent more. The canola mix is lower in saturated fat - something that raises the risk of heart disease and which seven in 10 Singaporeans consume too much of.

HPB aims to get 20 per cent of food outlets to make the switch by 2020.

But for these eateries, taste is key. "I've already tried other types of oil and my food does not taste as good," said Mr Ng Nang Lik, 52. The hawker uses coconut oil, which he says makes the fried doughsticks he sells more fragrant.

Mr T. C. Ho, assistant director for sales and marketing at Peach Garden, said: "We need to do tests and see if the new oil would affect the flavour of our stir-fried and deep fried dishes."

Price is another factor. HPB said it plans to absorb the price difference between palm oil and the new canola mix. But details on the exact pricing are still in the works.

"For us, every single penny counts," said Ms Hawa Kader, 37, who sells Indian Muslim food. "I will consider switching only if the new oil is cheaper," she added. Ms Kader currently uses a vegetable oil which costs about $28 for 17 litres.

Almost 500 hawkers and restaurants are already using a healthier palm-soya oil mix subsidised by HPB, said wholesaler Jia Jia Wang, which supplies this type of oil.

Hawker Mohammad Ismail, 31, however, said he will not be switching to a new oil any time soon.

"I won't change to the new blend because the oil that I'm using now already has a 'chop'," he said, referring to HPB's healthier choice symbol.

HPB said in addition to the canola mix, it will also encourage the use of soya, sunflower and rice bran oils, which have lower levels of saturated fat.

Several hawkers and chefs also raised concerns about the new oil's smoking point and durability.

"We don't want burnt oil to affect the taste of our food," said Mr Sufian Zain, 36, head chef at Restaurant Ember, which serves European cuisine.

The new suppliers must also be able to deliver on demand. "My supplier can deliver oil to me whenever I need it. I'm not sure if the new supplier will do that," said vegetarian food hawker, Mr Tan Sew Sung, 73.

Despite reservations, hawkers and restaurants said they are willing to give the healthier oil a try.

HPB chief executive Zee Yoong Kang has said tests have shown that people cannot taste the difference when palm oil is replaced with the healthier mix.

But hawkers and restaurant chefs said the best way to convince them is by giving them free samples. "I'll have to try the new oil before I introduce it to my customers. Taste is everything," said Ms Ong Poh Kee, 43, a hawker who sells Nonya food.

Chicken rice seller Niven Leong, 54, said he will consider switching from groundnut oil to the new mix. "It's a healthier option after all," he added.

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