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Another fat substitute headed for store shelves

A. E. Staley Manufacturing Co. has unveiled its entry into the fake-fat sweepstakes, a cornstarch-based substance officials said could be used in foods from salad dressing to baked goods. The Staley entry, known as Stellar, is the first major rival for Simplesse, introduced in February 1990 by Monsanto Co.'s NutraSweet subsidiary.

Staley officials said Tuesday that their product has a longer shelf life and a broader range of uses than Simplesse, which the government so far has licensed for use only in frozen desserts.

They also said that because it is made from corn, Stellar meets U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations governing the use of food-starch modified products and is immediately available for use by food manufacturers.

Decatur-based Staley, the second-largest U.S. producer of corn sweeteners and starches, was acquired by British sugar refiner Tate & Lyle in 1988 for $1.5-billion.

At least two other fake-fat products also are in the making.

The Kraft General Foods division of Philip Morris Cos. has applied for government approval of Trailblazer for use in frozen desserts, and Procter & Gamble is seeking FDA approval for Olestra, a fat substitute for frying foods.

"I think the market's still wide open," said John McMillin, a food-industry analyst with Prudential-Bache Securities Inc. in New York. "We're really in the first inning of the game here."

Kraft recently introduced fat-free mayonnaise and Miracle Whip salad dressings made with natural ingredients that did not require FDA approval.

Simplesse, made from egg whites and milk protein, has been approved for use only in frozen desserts. It has a shelf life of four weeks, double its shelf life when it was introduced, said Marguerite Copel, spokeswoman for NutraSweet's Simplesse division.

She said scientists also have expanded the range of uses for Simplesse to cheese sauces and cooked foods, although FDA approval for such uses is pending.