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Fish Oil Freezer Test

by Vin Kutty, MS on March 14, 2011

fish oil at natural products expo west

Every year, I spend the second weekend of march at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, California. It marks the arrival of spring. And I get to see people I’ve known for 20 plus years.

Hundreds of natural and organic foods manufacturers and supplement companies exhibit their products. If you can elbow you way past 50,000 attendees, you can taste all the new great stuff that the health food industry has in store for you.

‘Gluten-free’ appears to be the big new trend this year, as it was the year before. I’ll have more to say about gluten-free in a future blog.

But a tried-and-true marketing gimmick by a fish oil manufacturer annoyed me, so I want to share that with you here.

It’s called the fish oil freezer test.

Simply put, the marketing claim is: if you freeze your fish oil, and it becomes opaque, it’s bad fish oil.

On the surface, this test is made for infomercial TV – easy, simple and fun to demonstrate. Everyone can understand freezing and opaque vs. clear. No wonder marketers continue to use it and no wonder people fall for this gimmick.

As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, regular (retail grade) fish oil contains only 30% Omega-3. The other 70% is a mixture of various saturated and unsaturated fats. There is a lot of saturated fats in regular fish oil. And these saturated fats solidify when put in the freezer. Omega-3 fats do not freeze solid easily because they have extremely low freezing points.

Saturated Fats Solidify Easily

opaque fish oil pills
When the saturated fats solidify, it makes the pill look opaque like butter (right).

That’s neither good nor bad.

It’s not an indicator of quality.

It’s just an indicator of the Omega-3 content.

Low-Omega-3 fish oils will turn opaque in the freezer. High-Omega-3 fish oil pills won’t.

Simple as that.

This does not mean that the oil is low quality and it does not mean that it has mercury or other contaminants. It simply means that there is more saturated fats than Omega-3 fats in the opaque pills.

Now, if you took a pharmaceutical grade fish oil with 75% Omega-3, it is less likely to go opaque in the freezer because there is more Omega-3 and less saturated fats.
Omega-3 content in fish oils pill affect the result of the freezer test
And if you took prescription Lovaza and threw it in the freezer, it is unlikely to go opaque because it has about 85% Omega-3. And that means there is very little saturated fats in Lovaza. At $1 a pill, you hope it is mostly Omega-3!

I think the ‘freezer test’ marketing gimmick is misused by marketers to indicate quality and purity, as opposed to Omega-3 content. And THAT is my objection to this sales technique.

It connects dots that don’t exist.

A 90% Omega-3 fish oil product that is old, rancid and contaminated with mercury will pass the freezer test. It will look clear, crisp and beautiful after a night in the freezer.

But it will also make you sick.

As I was walking through the Natural Products Expo, I saw a prominent manufacturer’s sales rep use the old ‘freezer test’ pitch on an unsuspecting health food retail store buyer.
It sounded exactly like a TV infomercial pitch.

It took a lot of self-control for me to not step in and set the situation straight.

The words ‘interference of commerce’ popped into my head and so I kept walking.

Oh well. At least you know.

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this blog do not constitute medical advice. This is merely an open discussion of the science behind health and nutrition. Please consult your physician for medical advice.

Author Vin Kutty is an expert on fish oil About the Author: Vin Kutty is OmegaVia’s Scientific Advisor and Chief Blogger. He is a nutritionist, author, and Omega-3 expert with over 20 years of experience. Email him.


pharmaceutical grade fish oil

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniel A. Clinton, RN, BSN March 19, 2011 at 10:38 am

Vin,
Great posting. It is sad that there is such ignorance about basic chemistry as to allow this clownish tomfoolery to continue. Omega-6-to-Omega-3 imbalance is one of the most serious health issues plaguing America. In the end, we have to put our hopes in intelligent discussion and well-crafted education materials, not in stupid, incorrect, condescending faux-experiments that represent everything science isn’t.

Reply

Omegavia March 21, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Hi Daniel,

The freezer show is just an opportunistic selling tactic. But it will show people that different fats freeze at different temps. DHA, for instance, will remain liquid until -58 degrees F.

Vin

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Bill Dwyers November 13, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Great article, I appreciate your writing style and breakdown of how the freezing method works. When it comes to purchasing supplements, you really don’t know what’s in the capsules and have to trust the labels. It’s good to see people writing quality articles to help others make a healthy decision instead of trying to sell. Thanks!

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Sally December 10, 2012 at 11:59 pm

How is this a gimmick? Your paying for Omega 3, and the test shows you not getting it. Sound like a legit test to me.

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Vin Kutty December 11, 2012 at 12:24 am

Hi Sally – when you buy regular strength Omega-3, it usually contains between 20 and 30% Omega-3. The rest of the pill is Omega-6, Omega-9, saturated fats and other misc fats that solidify at refrigeration or freezer temps. That’s OK. That’s just basic science. When a fish oil pill turns solid white when frozen it DOES NOT mean there is no Omega-3 in it. It simply means there is more non-Omega-3 ingredients in the pill than there is Omega-3. So the freezer-test DOES NOT PROVE that there is no Omega-3 in it.

Low potency fish oil contains, well, low levels of Omega-3 and sometimes that’s what people can afford. It is very expensive to concentrate fish oil to a degree that it no longer freezes solid. It is not a matter of purity. It is a matter of potency, which in turn is a matter of cost. Not everyone can afford pharmaceutical grade fish oil. That’s OK too. With low-potency fish oil (the kinds that freeze solid), you have to take 3 times as many pills to get the Omega-3 benefit you need.

The gimmick part that I have a problem with is where people express fake outrage at saturated fats freezing at low temperatures. Saturated fats are SUPPOSED to freeze at low temperatures. This is exploiting people lack of chemistry knowledge for personal gain. And telling consumers that pills that freeze solid have no Omega-3 in them is misleading and deceptive. These practices only add to the high level of confusion that people already feel about Omega-3, nutrition and health in general.

– Vin Kutty

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Francis April 18, 2013 at 10:23 am

Thanks for the explanation. It is good information. But I feel sad that an expert like you can agree to the following:
1) It is alright for customers to buy Products labelled as Omega 3 but get a mixture of Omega 6 & 9 with a small portion of Omega 3;
2) It is not a quality issue for a product not containing what it makes its customers to believe its content;
3) Customers are not deserved to get what they expected because they don’t pay enough money.

My question is why can’t these companies sell products with Omega 3 only with same price or don’t label their products as Omega 3?

Reply

Vin Kutty April 18, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Hi Francis – it is not alright for people to buy an ‘Omega-3′ product and get mostly Omega-6 & 9 instead. Where did you see me agreeing to something like that? If there is one message on this website that I repeat, that is to reduce Omega-6.

Please explain.

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Dr R A Wells January 2, 2013 at 8:44 am

Mr Kutty, is of course correct, in that freezer test does not necessarily indicate NO Omega 3, nor does it help demonstrate rancidity etc. However he seems to undervalue an important point for those of us who are simply trying to differentiate between capsules with lower percentage Omega 3 vs those with a high percentage. As the former likely have a higher percentage of saturated fats, they will freeze more easily, and this valid indication of concentration can be very useful.
If one is paying for Super Concentrated Omega 3, and only getting regular 18/12 Omega 3 Fish oil, this test can certainly help.
I am not in this industry, but if anyone knows of a more valid simple test of comparing concentration of very high vs regular/low Omega 3, it would be most welcome.

Reply

Vin Kutty January 4, 2013 at 12:16 am

Hi Dr. Wells – you have a good point. I concede that if you are trying to separate the low-potency vs the high-potency fish oils, then the freezer test may be somewhat useful. The likelihood of paying for concentrated oil and getting low-grade oil is virtually zero in North America or Europe. The regulations are tight. And any caught infractions are very painful for the manufacturer. None of the manufacturers that I know (and I know a lot of them) would even consider duping customers like this. I make no promises about other parts of the world, where this kind of trickery occurs regularly.
– Vin Kutty

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