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Bakery: cutting trans fats while maintaining functionality

Finding the right shortening or margarine to maintain a parity product while complying with the directive to eliminate trans fats and reduce saturated fats is possible with the right supplier and an eye on functionality attributes and cost. Joe Higgs reveals what's next in healthier baked goods

Shortening has played a role in the baking industry since its inception, to provide structure and mouthfeel and all the associated flavour characteristics and sensory attributes. During the mixing process, shortening is responsible for the creaming effect on the dough. The thin film of fat is evenly distributed, imparting the characteristic flakiness in puff pastry or the aeration in cakes or bread.

There are literally hundreds of plasticity ranges that can be developed for bakery fats and shortenings. However, the choices narrow when it comes to achieving the proper functionality in trans-free, reduced-saturate shortenings. That is why a manufacturer faces a major formulation undertaking when it finds itself in the position of having to replace a shortening system. The primary considerations when selecting a replacement shortening are plasticity range; oil stability; and a clean, bland flavour. Plasticity and flavour are particularly important for a manufacturer to maintain its trademark flavour and texture in baked goods.

Advances in ingredient technology today are matched by scientific discoveries that demonstrate the correlation between certain ingredients and human health. We now know there is a direct correlation between trans-fat intake, and both an increase of blood levels of LDL cholesterol and a decrease in the healthy HDL cholesterol, which therefore increases the risk of coronary heart disease.

The demise of trans fats
Trans fatty acids are unsaturated fatty acids formed during the hydrogenation process. Hydrogenation is the process of reacting hydrogen gas with oil at high temperatures, under pressure, in the presence of a catalyst (typically nickel), in a closed-reaction vessel. Cis form converts to trans form.

For the baking industry, partially hydrogenated oils were the answer for the replacement of animal fats in the 1960s and '70s. The hydrogenation process provided a low-cost functional replacement that also improved overall stability by decreasing the C 18:3 (linolenic acid) content. This helped to improve the shelf life for many baked goods. Another advantage was that functionality could be modified by adjusting the melt points and solid fat index (SFI) of the oil. This change in structure, along with custom processing to form a plasticised fat, provided the ideal baking fat.

However, the food industry is now mandated to declare trans-fat content on product labels and consequently has begun the search for appropriate substitutes. Conscientiously, the best choice is a shortening that doesn't adversely affect human health. In addition, the ideal baking shortening will be able to supply functionality at critical melt points, cost no more than the current shortening, contain no trans fats, contain no partially hydrogenated oils and be no higher in saturated fat than the current product…a task that's not so simple!

A baking fat needs to provide structure in the form of solids to achieve the desired end results. Whether it's a puff pastry, sheet cake or pie crust that's being formulated, the fat is the primary contributor to appearance and sensory attributes. Solids come from two forms, trans and saturates. Unfortunately, there are trade-offs. When eliminating trans fats, the saturated fats are typically increased. If the solids are decreased too much, the shelf life is at risk for being decreased. If high-stability oils such as high-oleic or mid-oleic oils are used, the cost can go up.

Meeting the challenge
The challenge now faced by food scientists is how to reduce saturates, keep trans at zero and maintain functionality. One formulation method is to utilise margarine in place of a shortening. Margarines contain 80 per cent fat vs 100 per cent in a shortening, and they can be formulated to specific melt points. In this instance, functionality is evaluated by comparing the SFI curves. The key to formulating a trans-free margarine is to make sure the per cent solids are close at each designated melt point.

Wanted: Functionality at critical melt points, no trans fats, similar sat fat levels, low cost — and healthy to eat
Another way to lower saturates, besides replacing the shortening with margarine, is to use alternative oils or blends of oils. An example might be the use of canola oil or sunflower oil, possibly combined with specially blended palm-oil fractions. Blending a salad oil with a percentage of fully hydrogenated oil (5 iodine value, fully saturated and trans free) can also yield some functionality (see Table 1, below). However, while the saturates are lower (22-24 per cent) than a typical all-purpose shortening (30-33 per cent), the downside is a very flat SFI curve, which decreases functionality and increases the melt point. This in turn imparts a 'waxy' mouthfeel.

One other option includes a combination of formulation and specialised processing to achieve a fluid shortening. This product actually exhibits a semi-viscous characteristic and has high solids at 50°F (23-25 per cent), and saturates of about 30 per cent.

Some other options
In addition to oil blending, there are other options to lower saturates. These include the use of stabilizers like gums, starches or gelatins to provide functionality. Fibre is also emerging as a viable option. However, certain fibres can affect the texture of the baked good and should be thoroughly investigated by the development group. All of these options will impact label declaration. A longer-term solution, but one that holds much promise, is the use of new hybrid oils that will be naturally lower in saturates. These hybrid oils are actively being developed by agribusiness seed companies.

There is no easy fix, or 'drop-in replacement,' to take the place of a typical partially hydrogenated bakery shortening while maintaining product functionality. To achieve the best shortening replacement, a baking manufacturer should co-operate in partnership with the supplier to find a custom-based solution for their individual processing needs. Additionally, both parties have to understand that there will most likely be a cost impact. The oils used as alternatives are more expensive than regular partially hydrogenated soybean oil, the supply is in great demand, and the processing to make the shortening or margarine is more complex.

Joe Higgs is vice president of technical services for Ventura Foods (, which specializes in the custom development of edible oils, shortenings, margarines, sauces and dressings. Its new shortening, called FloFlex, is a trans-free pumpable shortening that possesses all of the characteristics of a traditional solid shortening. It helps maintain proper dough rheology, is mild in flavour and fits into the manufacturing cycle without adding extra equipment or processing steps. Respond: [email protected]

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