Rock stars and athletes aren’t the only ones making a comeback this year. Cottonseed oil — once the darling of the edible oils industry — is hitting the road to promote its ability to help food processors and foodservice operators produce healthier foods free of artificial trans fats.

A new Web site launched by the National Cottonseed Products Association, CottonseedOilTour.com, takes visitors on a virtual cross-country tour of cottonseed oil success stories.

Visitors learn how their food industry peers, from chip manufacturers to ballpark concessionaires, have adopted cottonseed oil to remove trans fats, improve food quality and even boost performance.

The NCPA is the national trade association for the cottonseed processing industry.

Use of cottonseed oil for salad or cooking oils rose dramatically in 2006, nearly doubling from earlier years to 551 million pounds, notes NCPA executive vice president Ben Morgan, who attributes the growth to increased demand for oils that are stable without hydrogenation.

“We also know that numerous crushers and oil suppliers are reporting strong demand for cottonseed oil, and many are rolling out new zero-trans cooking oils made with cottonseed oil.

“New York City’s decision to ban trans fats in restaurants last July has been a coup for our industry,” which, he says, was left with about a 250-million pound surplus after Frito Lay converted to sunflower oil in 2006.

“We are now filling that void thanks to the efforts of our membership and oil suppliers who are reintroducing food service operators and food processors to this versatile vegetable oil, valued for its high stability and neutral flavor.”

While total U.S. cotton production is estimated at 17.8 million bales in 2007-08, compared to 21.6 million bales in 2006-07, Morgan is confident that cottonseed oil will be able to help meet the demand for trans-free oils, particularly in niche markets.

“Cottonseed has long been considered the ‘gold standard’ oil in frying in potato chips, for instance, and it’s becoming recognized as a solution for maintaining taste in zero-trans bakery products,” he says, noting Dunkin’ Donuts’ recent switch to a cottonseed oil blend.

Cottonseed oil is one of only a few oils that are stable in the beta-prime crystal form, which promotes a smooth, workable consistency valued in the bakery and snack business.

According to Robert Reeves, president of the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils, Washington D.C., “Cottonseed oil fits into the various ways of creating a trans-free product, including high-stability cooking or salad oils, shortenings and spreads. It can help restaurants and snack producers successfully produce trans free alternatives.”

With its new campaign, NCPA aims to increase awareness among food industry professionals, as well as consumers, on the benefits of cottonseed oil.

“While demand for cottonseed oil is up, there is still much to be done,” Morgan says, referring to a recent NCPA-commissioned survey of food industry professionals, a majority of which had low awareness and a limited understanding of cottonseed oil and its benefits.

“We plan to change that with the tour,” he says, adding that direct mail, online advertising and public relations will round out the campaign. “We’re going to have some fun.”

For more information on NCPA and cottonseed oil, contact Amy Dennis or Heidi Nelson at (503) 274-0086 or visit www.cottonseedoiltour.com.