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Baking today: Newer fats, fewer trans

Formulating baked goods sans trans fats is part of today's food manufacturer landscape. Deciding on your solution requires asking a number of candid questions ranging from performance characteristics to price point. Lynne Morehart starts by asking the right questions

In response to consumers' growing demands for healthier products, one of the biggest food trends in the last several years has been the focus on fat. The first wave involved the conversion to ingredients that helped produce a finished product with either low or no trans fat per serving. Many industry solutions involved the use of tropical products, such as palm shortening. Since that time, a second wave has begun with food manufacturers' interest in total fat content and seeking solutions that can help optimise the reduction of both saturated and trans fat without sacrificing taste and performance needs.

Food manufacturers have several options for reducing 'bad' fats in certain foods, including using tropical oils, blends and interesterified fats. The desirable option of choice is greatly dependent on the food manufacturer's goal for the finished product. Is a solid fat needed for function and performance? What are the nutritional and price goals? Is the food manufacturer open to investing in a customized product for optimal results? These are just a few of the critical and candid questions that need to be initially addressed between food manufacturer and supplier on a fat-solution journey. Bakery applications call for many different types of fats and oils. When choosing a liquid oil option, decisions can be made around nutritional profile, oxidative stability, availability and costs. Yet simply moving to a nonhydrogenated liquid oil can give various performance differences and possibly change the overall product characteristics based on the finished food.

For example, if you need a solid fat for a function such as shelf life, a liquid oil may shorten it. Tropical oils as substitutions are high in saturated fats and may deliver an unfavourable nutritional profile. An oil blend gets you to middle ground, but it could be challenging to find the right one, requiring significant technical expertise to get to the right proportion of fats for the desired performance and nutritional profile.

Selections for solid-fat options fall into the following three categories:

  1. Fats that are naturally solid at room temperature, which include lard, tallow and palm. Palm kernel oil (melt-point ~85°F) and coconut oil (melt-point ~80-82°F) are also solid at room temperature, but melt very abruptly at these low temperatures. This is often not enough solid character for the overall function that may be needed.
  2. Physical blends of liquid oil and fully hydrogenated fats. These physical blends are lower in saturated fat than naturally occurring solid fats.
  3. Interesterified fats. As with the liquid oil options, choices in the previous categories can be determined around nutrition, stability, availability and costs.
  4. When selecting a solid-fat option, food manufacturers should be aware that there might be changes made to flavour systems added to the product.

The take on bake
Bakery applications have, of course, been hardest hit by the trans- and saturated-fat reduction movement. This category is perhaps the most technically challenging for fat-system conversions because of the vital role solid fats play in finished goods, including aiding such attributes as structure, body, creaming, aeration, shelf life, texture, geometry and oil migration. Creative approaches are required on how to deliver these same functionalities in a lower saturated and trans fat-per-serving application. In many cases, optimal performance is obtained as a result of appreciating such factors as ingredient interaction, process controls, formulations and recalibrating those variables to derive the best performance from the new shortening system.

A number of strategies have been implemented. These include complete hydrogenation to produce a structuring element, incorporation of fats that are naturally semisolids at the required application temperature (eg, palm, palm kernel), further modification of semisolid stocks via fractionation to improve crystallisation/structuring attributes, interesterification, proprietary partial hydrogenation techniques designed to minimize trans formation, and gelling agents (eg, certain emulsifiers). In evaluating the need for product development changes within bakery products, here are a few highlighted applications and issues to be aware of when considering a fat-system solution strategy.

Cookies: Cookies are primarily made with solid fats. Changes between solid fat options may still require adjustments to dough temperature and baking temperatures. Changes from a solid fat to a liquid oil will require more extensive changes that may include ingredients, order of addition, mixing conditions, baking conditions, packaging, storage and transport.

Cakes: The most critical part of a fat formulation for a cake is the emulsifier system you use. Because of this, you will find that you can make a cake out of a solid fat or a liquid oil. The use of liquid oil for a cake will make a more tender cake than one that is made with a solid fat. Air incorporation during mixing, desirable texture and grain are all controlled much more importantly by the emulsifier system you use. Liquid oils will incorporate more rapidly than a solid shortening. For this reason, you need to make sure that mixing times are shortened.

Icing: Icings or frostings can be the most difficult application to make a fat-system change. A solid fat is definitely required for function when making an icing. The lower trans-fat options are going to be lard, tallow, palm and butter; however, tallow, lard and butter bring forth specific flavour profiles that may or may not be acceptable. Any of these options would need emulsifiers added to them for appropriate incorporation of air for lightness and fluffiness. Emulsified palm shortenings may cause some post-hardening of the frosting. It becomes even more critical to maintain appropriate temperature control on the shortening so that it maintains the appropriate firmness. If the shortening is too firm, then there can be resulting inconsistencies in mixing of the icing, storage of the icing and spreadability.

Doughnuts: In addition to doughnuts being cake or yeast-raised, intended shelf life is a critical factor for fat-system options. Some doughnuts are immediately frozen after manufacturing, others are eaten within one to three days after frying, and some need a shelf life of three to 40 days. Each of these applications can handle differences in frying-oil options in differing ways. A solid fat is a necessity for appropriate fat set on the surface of the doughnut. Some of the low trans-fat options may require longer setting time of the surface fat. Appropriate surface set is necessary to maintain the integrity of the sugar coat or glaze throughout the required shelf life of the product. Delay of the glaze coating may be necessary to allow for the proper surface set of the doughnut.

With the range of standard to speciality, to customized products available on the market, the decision on which road to take to reduce or eliminate trans and saturated fats can be a very complex one to make. Luckily, it doesn't have to be made alone. A candid discussion with your trusted oils and shortening supplier can be an extremely beneficial partnership in stepping through the nutritional, functional and operational requirements for your application, as well as the range of possible solutions available to ultimately and successfully achieve your desired goals.

Lynne Morehart is technical services manager at Cargill Dressings, Sauces & Oils.

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