Eddy W. Eckey, Father of directed Interesterification (1902-1989)

The Author: Gary R. List

Eddy Eckey will always be remembered for his discovery of directed interesterification of fats and oils as well as a definitive treatise on the chemistry of vegetable fats and oils. George Jamieson had authored two previous editions (1932, 1943) of the ACS monograph "The Vegetable Oils" (see Giants of the Past, www.lipidlibrary.org.). In the early 1950s, significant advances in lipid chemistry had occurred including the introduction of new analytical methods. By then Eckey had established himself as a top fats and oils chemist. Thus, he was chosen to edit and contribute to a 3rd revision of the book. Vegetable Fats and Oils was completed and published in 1954 (Reinhold Publishing New York). Some 60 years after publication the book still remains a valuable reference volume.

Eddy Eckey was born in 1902 in Iowa and received an A.B. degree from Washington University in 1923 and a M.A. degree from Harvard University 3 years later. He joined AOCS in 1931 and since at the time there was a 5 year experience requirement, he must have begun his fats and oils career after graduate school (1926) .Thus his first and only position in industry was at Proctor and Gamble .Little is known of his research up until 1932-34 when he received his first of many US patents. Patents 1 892 907 and 1 993 152 were filed in 1932 and were issued in 1934 and 1935 respectively. Both described methods to stabilize edible fats and oils against oxidative and flavor deterioration with very small amounts (less than 100ppm) of phosphoric acid or kieselghur treated with phosphoric acid. As a side note from the author's experience soybean oil when so treated may develop melon-like flavors on storage. Eckey alludes to this by stating less than 100 ppm is needed to stabilize oils.

By 1945 the use of animal fats for food began to decline in favor of hydrogenated soybean oil. Proctor and Gamble along with Swift and Armour began to look at interesterification for improving lard and tallow as shortenings. While lard was highly prized for flaky pie crusts, the creaming properties in cake baking were inferior to hydrogenated shortenings. Lard is a beta tending fat which crystallizes in large crystals. In addition lard had poor flavor stability, a poor plastic range, and a non-uniform consistency due to the hog growing season and rendering methods. Thus, rearrangement of the glyceride structure was an attractive technology to improve the shortening properties of lard. Random interesterification is carried out at relatively high temperature (80-100oC) in the presence of metal alkoxides or metallic sodium or potassium. The disadvantages of the process are well known and include neutral oil losses, downstream processing to remove color bodies and with a catalyst that was very sensitive to moisture.

Armour (Van der Wal and Van Akkeren) and Swift (Mattil and Norris) took the random interesterification approach quite possibly because of patents issued to Eckey (assigned to Proctor and Gamble) disclosing directed interesterification as a fat modification technique. (US 2 442 531, 2 442 532, 2 442 533, 2 442 534, 2 442 535, 2 442 536.2 442 537, 1948.) His first patent describes carrying out the reaction at low temperature whereby the higher melting triglycerides crystallize out of solution. His last patent in the series describes the recycling of reaction products allowing flexibility for products with varying physical properties. The above family of patents were filed in 1944 and issued in 1948. Thus, it is reasonably safe to assume his research was begun several years prior to 1944. Once the patents were allowed Eckey published his classic paper "Directed Interesterification of Glycerides" (Ind. Eng. Chem. 40, 1183-1190, 1948).

By circa early 1955 Proctor and Gamble had introduced a lard based shortening product based on Eckey's directed interesterification patents. The retail product was named "Fluffo" and within less than two years became second to Crisco (Proctor and Gamble (P & G)) in retail sales. An all-purpose shortening for bakery and hotel use was named "Pertex" and a cake shortening with added monoglycerides was sold as "Selex". The entire process is described in detail in "Directed Interesterification of Lard" (Placek and Holman, Ind. Eng. Chem. 49 pp 162-169, 1957). Prior to 1957 Hawley and Holman (both P & G employees) published a technical paper on the directed interesterification of lard as a processing tool (JAOCS, 33, 29-35, 1956.)

While at P & G, Eckey's other research included fractionation of fatty acids by distillation, the preparation of monoglycerides, detergents, development of puff pastry shortenings, the stabilization of fats and oils and analytical method development. In 1946 Eckey published a method to ascertain the oxidative stability of fats and oils which was based on oxygen absorption and measurement via a manometer attached to a small flask holding the sample. The method was designed for testing a large number of samples and reducing the labor requirements for routine testing. The method reportedly had given satisfactory service over a period of years at P & G (Oil and Soap, 23, 38-40, 1946).

Eckey's last patent on fats and oils was filed 1961 and granted to Proctor and Gamble in 1963. Eckey (US 3 093 481) reported that small amounts of carbohydrates (sucrose esters of long chain fatty acids) added to plastic shortenings prior to the plasticizing step improved the consistency and keeping properties at elevated temperatures.

Although the precise date is unknown (circa 1957) Eckey left Proctor and Gamble and formed his own company (Eckey Laboratory, in Cincinnati, Ohio, 131 W Wayne St.) Cattells "Industrial Research Laboratories of the United States" 10th edition, 1956 does not list his company. However the 1960 edition lists EW Eckey Owner/Director along with two chemical engineers and a support employee. The company was described as developing processes for the chemical industry. The Eckey Laboratory was granted two US patents (US 3 171 600, 3 171 725, 1965) both of which described the spraying of liquids and gases. Little else is known about the Eckey laboratory and its accomplishments or when it ceased to exist. By 1962 Eckey was listed in the Cincinnati Directory as "Consulting Chemist" with the same address as his laboratory.

Two girls were born to the Eckeys. By the 1970s Eckey retired and both he and his wife were living in a retirement home. Eddy and Mary both passed away in 1989 at the ages of 86 and 84 respectively in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Proctor and Gamble employed a number of outstanding scientists during the 1940 -1970s including ES Lutton, George Holman, Oscar Quimby, A.S. Richardson and Louis Going, all of which made significant contributions to fats and oils technology. However, the discovery of directed interesterification and its applications will stand as a classic contribution to edible oil processing and is still cited in review articles and the patent literature.

Notes and Further Reading

Other pioneers in Interesterification/modification of lard include Karl Mattil, Frank Norris, (US 2 625 478-483) Robert Vander Wal and Christian Van Loon. Mattil and Norris were employed at Swift and held a number of patents on rearranged lard, leading to Swiftning shortening. Van der Wal (US 2 571 315) played a key role in bringing Armour's rearranged lard to commercialization. (see" Lard scores again", Lloyd Slater, Food Eng.100, 72-73 1953) Vander Wal also made significant contributions to glyceride structure in formulating the 1, 3 random-2 random theory (JAOCS 37, 595, 1960) C.W. Van Loon is credited with the discovery of random interesterification (Dutch Patent 16,703 1927, US 1 873 513, 1932).

Armour's rearranged lard was never a retail product but was sold to the baking industry and was known as "R" lard.

The author is indebted to Dr. Joseph Endres who began his career at Armour in the early 1960s and furnished information on R lard. The assistance of Dr. Edward Hunter is gratefully acknowledged. He was able to contact the library in Cincinnati for details of Eckey's latter years including the history of the Eckey Lab.