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Kao suspends DAG oil shipments

Catherine Watkins

November 2009

On September 16, Kao Corp. suspended shipments in Japan of its 59 diacylglycerol (DAG) oil-based products, citing the presence of glycidol esters. Two days later, the Tokyo-based company suspended shipments of Enova-brand DAG oil in the United States. On September 23, Korean manufacturer CJ [formerly, Cheil Jedang] Corp. suspended shipments and initiated a voluntary recall of its Litra DAG oil product "in light of [Kao's actions] in Japan."

        "We are taking immediate action by temporarily halting the sale and shipment of these products until the amount of fatty acid glycidol esters in Econa (called Enova in North America) and related products can be lowered to levels similar to common cooking oils," Kao told inform in a written statement. "While we believe our products have been and are now safe, we are nevertheless taking this extra precaution as a way to assure our customers that they can continue to enjoy our products with confidence."

        Although glycidol (2,3-epoxy-1-propanol) is listed as "probably carcinogenic to humans" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), no data exist on the metabolic fate of glycidol fatty acid esters in the human gut. As a result, IARC has classified glycidol (or glycidyl) esters as "not classifiable as to carcinogenicity to humans."

        The situation is further complicated by the lack of research on mechanism (it is assumed that glycidol esters are formed during deodorization) and the lack of a validated method for the detection of glycidol esters.

        "The analysis of these process contaminants has been the subject of discussions at recent technical meetings in Europe and Australia," said Richard Cantrill, director of AOCS Technical Services. "As a member/representative at these meetings, AOCS stands ready to help industry and our constituencies develop the analytical tools and resources needed to meet this challenge."

        DAG oil is produced from soy and canola oils via enzymatic interesterification. Whereas DAG oil consists of roughly 80% diglycerides in the sn-1,3 configuration, commonly used cooking and salad oils contain a preponderance of triglycerides (TAG). Current thinking suggests that differences in the absorption and metabolism of DAG oil result in a reduction of post-meal serum TAG levels and an increase in overall metabolism, thereby leading to a reduction in the amount of fat stored in the body.

        DAG oil products in Japan have been certified under the FOSHU (Foods for Specific Health Uses) system and are labeled as being helpful in controlling body fat deposition and post-meal blood serum levels. After the Consumer Affairs Agency said on October 8 that it would move to revoke FOSHU status for the Econa product line, Kao voluntarily stopped using the FOSHU label. The company will file a new FOSHU application once it has lowered the level of glycidol esters through process mitigation, according to a company news release.

        The Consumers Union of Japan (CUJ) applauded the move, stating that it does not believe that consumers need the FOSHU system. "It preys on the insecurities some people feel about issues like weight or health that should be addressed in a more comprehensive way, not through promotion of highly processed products like DAG oils," said Yamaura Yasuaki, CUJ secretary general.

        In the meantime, Kao says it will continue to work on mitigation: "We are working very closely with ADM [Archer Daniels Midland Co. of Decatur, Illinois, USA, which supplies DAG oil to Kao] on implementing the processing changes to reduce the level of glycidol esters," Kao said via e-mail. "We expect these processing steps will be completed so we will be able to resume selling and shipping [DAG oil] by the end of March 2010."

        Total annual sales for the Econa brand are roughly $200 million in Japan, Kao said, and account for 9% of the cooking and salad oil market. "Total sales for the Enova brand in the United States is much less," a spokesperson wrote. Kao's share price dropped 2.9% immediately after its announcement on September 16 but later rebounded.

Catherine Watkins is associate editor of inform and can be reached at

A DAG oil timeline

1999: Econa-brand diacylglycerol (DAG) cooking and salad oil is introduced in Japan by Kao Corp.


2001: Kao and ADM (Archer Daniels Midland Co.; Decatur, Illinois, USA) form a joint venture known as ADM Kao LLC to market DAG oil products in the United States.


2003: Kao and ADM introduce Enova DAG oil in the United States.
    The Consumers Union of Japan begins working to have FOSHU (Foods for Specified Health Use) status for Econa oil and other products retracted.


2008: The Kao/ADM joint venture is dissolved, and the US-based entity’s name becomes Kao Health and Nutrition LLC (Itasca, Illinois).




March—Germany’s risk assessment agency (BfR; Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung) announces it has detected glycidol esters in refined palm-based vegetable fats.

June—Kao finds that its Econa cooking oil contains up to 18 times the level of glycidol esters detected in seven common vegetable oils. Using a Deutsche Gesellschalt für Fettewissenschaft method, Kao determines that the glycidol ester levels in the seven common vegetable oils ranged from 0.5–9.1 parts per million. The company does not release a list of which oils it tested.

July and August—Japan’s Food Safety Commission meets to discuss the issue.


September—Kao stops shipments of DAG oil products in Japan and the United States.


October—Kao surrenders its FOSHU certification.



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