The U.S. government wants you to have your cake and eat it too, so it's experimenting with recipes for low-fat cake mixes and frostings.
The key to cutting out the fat in these mixes is a product called "Fantesk," a mixture of cornstarch, water and oil.
While you might have heard that oil and water don't mix, they actually do, under the right conditions. When the cornstarch is cooked with steam under high pressure, tiny droplets of oil become distributed throughout the starch. Since these "microdroplets " are encapsulated by the starch, the mixture does not feel oily, said Mukti Singh, a food technologist at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria, Ill. NCAUR is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.
Singh's team formulated a version of Fantesk with very little oil, so it's low in fat. Since the microdroplets are spread out evenly in the mixture, you can't tell from the taste that you're getting skimped on the lard.
"You're getting the taste of fat in every bite that you eat, but actually it's not a lot of fat," she said.
Also, having the oil already in the cake mix means consumers won't have to add extra oil or butter before they bake.
The resulting cakes can contain up to 50 percent less fat than regular cakes, Singh said. A slightly different Fantesk formulation can also be used to reduce fat in frostings, she said.
Fantesk was invented back in the '90s and has been experimented with for making low-fat versions of food, such as ice cream, cheese and ground meats. Back in 2002, frozen, breaded shrimp became the first commercial product to contain Fantesk.
Cutting the fat in normally high calorie foods might help curb the nation's obesity epidemic, Singh suggested. Currently, about one-third of the population is obese.
"Everybody likes cakes and icing, so if you can have a product which is low-fat, it would definitely help," Singh said.
Singh is continuing her research with these products, examining the different properties of the mixes and what happens to them during storage.