Hydrogénation is unique among the unit processes used in edible oils and fats processing in that it alters the molecular structure and composition of the glycerol esters comprising the naturally occurring triglycerides of vegetable, meat, and marine origin. It is a chemical reaction in which hydrogen is added to the ethylenic linkages (double bonds). It requires the presence of a catalyst—historically almost always nickel. It normally is performed batchwise in a hydrogen-pressurized stirred reactor. Agitation is necessary to suspend the catalyst and to effect solubilization of the hydrogen, thus enabling it to react on the surface of the catalyst with a double bond in the oil.

Hydrogénation is employed worldwide on a vast scale in the edible oils and fats industry. Its principal objectives are to convert liquid oils into plastic fats usable in a wide variety of cooking and baking applications, and to improve flavor stability by retarding deterioration through oxidation. Hydrogénation has also made a major contribution to the present high degree of interchangeability among a wide variety of oils and fats.

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