Earl G. Hammond (1926-2017)

The Author: Gary R. List

Earl Hammond was born on November 21, 1926, in Terril Texas where he attended schools. He received a BS and MS degrees in biochemistry from the University of Texas. Earl went on to earn a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota under Professor Walter O.Lundberg in 1953. In 1946 while attending the University of Texas he was called into the Army and served one year. He returned to Texas and while working on his MS he met Johnie Wright at the University Baptist Church. After a long courtship, they were married on September 17, 1951, at the Baptist Church. Both finished their degrees and moved to Ames Iowa where they spent the rest of their lives.  Earl was passionate about the welfare of the poor and was actively engaged in finding affordable housing for low-income families. He was a founding member of the Story County and Ames Ecumenical housing foundation. Earl was active in his church and was a teacher for many years. He loved music and played recorder for small groups.  Wife Johnie was active in politics serving as a state legislator.

After receiving the Ph.D. in biochemistry the Hammonds moved to Ames Iowa where Earl took a position at Iowa State University. Here Earl began a long and productive career in fats and oils spanning over 50 years. He received numerous honors for his research including The Bailey, Chang and Supelco Awards from AOCS as well as election to the first class of AOCS Fellows in 1998.He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Olsztyn in Poland as well as an Honorary Medal, University of Agriculture and Technology, Olsztyn, Poland. In recognition of his research on soybeans, he along with Walter Fehr were awarded a Utilization Award by the American Soybean Association

Earl authored about 260 publications and patents. He was a highly cited author (over 4000 citations, h index 34, g index 57, publish or perish). His research encompassed virtually every area of lipid science, they include glyceride structure, autoxidation, dairy foods, flavor chemistry, edible fats and oils, biofuels, enzymology and plant biochemistry.

His most important contribution centered around changing the fatty acid composition of soybean oil. Soybean oil was considered to be a low saturate high polyunsaturated oil and desirable from a nutritional point of view. The oil performed well in low-temperature applications including salad /mayonnaise and margarines /spreads and shortening components. However, soybean oil contains 7-8% of the highly unstable linolenic acid which upon heating to frying temperatures imparts disagreeable odors to a room described as painty or fishy. Thus many efforts to remove linolenic acid were made including fractionation, catalytic hydrogenation, and plant breeding all of which were only partially successful on a commercial scale.

An early publication from the Peoria Research Laboratory (USDA)showed that while some reduction in linolenate by plant breeding was possible but a content of 3% or less was needed for heavy duty industrial frying. In the early 1980s, Earl Hammond teamed with Agronomist Walter Fehr to conduct studies aimed at changing the fatty acid composition of soybean oil. By the late 1980s, their efforts bore fruit. The target of 3% linolenic acid was reached. Considerable interest was aroused and by the early 1990s, a low linolenic acid soybean oil reached the marketplace. Despite annual sales of 500 million dollars, the oil was discontinued. The costs of grower premiums and identity preservation during harvesting and processing were a deterrent and food companies were unwilling to pay the added price for a niche oil. The technology was ahead of its time. By 1999 trans fats became the target for nutrition labeling and by 2003 became federal law. The food industry had about 3 years to find replacements for trans fats. Accordingly, low linolenic soybean oil was sought by the food industry. In fact, by 2005 Kentucky Fried Chicken contracted to purchase 100 million pounds to supply 5600 stores across the nation. While further improvements have been made to trait modified oils including low linolenic mid/high oleic soybean, canola and sunflower oils, the pioneering work of Hammond and Fehr was vital. Today trait modified oils furnish over 20 % of domestic needs.

Hammonds work on trait modified oils is documented in 23 US Patents. Low and zero linolenic soybean oils are only a part of the work carried out at Iowa State. A number of lines with modified saturated acid content were identified including a high palmitic, a high stearic, and a high palmitic /stearic variety all of which have shown promise as trans fat replacements in soft margarines and spreads.

Earl Hammond was a quiet, modest, unassuming person with a dry sense of humor. I first met him in 1967 at the AOCS meeting in Chicago and he was the first person I was introduced to. Much later I told him about our meeting and he said,” I’m sure it was a momentous occasion” Earl left a great legacy. A number of his graduate students have become top scientists in industry and academia.

Recognition came late to Earl Hammond. His first major award came in 1992 at the age of 66. He remarked that he wondered if he would ever get an award. However, he considered his own best critic of his work.   A year later came the Bailey Award. In 2006 he received the prestigious Supelco award. His address was entitled “Confessions of an unfocused professor” in which he described how his career was shaped by grant money. Dairy chemistry was a favorite research area for which he was recognized by the American Dairy Science Association Pfizer award.in cultured and fermented foods. Earl and his wife enjoyed traveling the world with their many grandchildren The Hammonds have two sons and two daughters as well as eleven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. His passion for science was evident from his purchase of chemistry sets and microscopes for his family. Earl was promoted to University Professor and retired officially in January 2003 but continued to do research and work with students until 2014. He received much satisfaction in mentoring young students and helping them to succeed in their profession. Earl Hammond was a true gentleman and a scholar. His willingness to offer advice to many in the field of fats, oils, and lipids was widely acknowledged by AOCS members. He regularly attended AOCS meetings until the last few years with help of a motorized scooter. In 2008 an AOCS symposium was held to honor his many contributions the profession. A number of his past students presented papers in which personal reflections were part of the program. All were grateful for his leadership, council and advice. To say he was held in high esteem would be an understatement.

Notes and further reading

Earl Hammonds patents on trait modified soybean oils are listed by number as follows:

  • US 5 516.980
  • US 5 530 183
  • US 5 534 425
  • US 5 557 037
  • US 5 585 535
  • US 5 602 311
  • US 5 684 230
  • US 5 684 231
  • US 5 710 369
  • US 5 714 668
  • US 5 714 669
  • US 5 714 670
  • US 5 714 672
  • US 5 750 844
  • US 5 750 845
  • US 5 570 846
  • US 6 060 647
  • US 5 986 116
  • US 6 025 029
  • US 6 133 509

Appointments at Iowa State University

  • Assistant Professor 1953-1959
  • Associate Professor 1959-1966 
  • Head Food Technology 1985-1990 
  • Professor 1966-1996 
  • University Professor 1997 -2003
  • University Professor Emeritus 2003-2017

E.G. Hammond Confessions of an unfocused research professor, INFORM 17 pp 448-450 2008

INFORM 3 1288 1992, INFORM 4 426 1993 (Chang and Bailey Awards) 

Book Chapters

E G Hammond LA Johnson, C.Su, T. Wang and PJ White, Soybean Oil in Baileys Industrial Oil and Fat Products, 6th  Edition Ed F Shahidi 2005

Earl Hammond, Filled and artificial and altered milk fats, in modifying lipids for use in foods, Ed F. Gunstone, Woodhead Publishers 2006

E.G. Hammond, Edible oils from herbaceous crops in technological advances in improved and alternative crops Ed BS Kamel, Blackie and Sons 1994