Sourcing ideal trans-free oils

Mandatory trans fatty acid labelling on all products sold in the US is only six months away. Keith Seiz details a lineup of trans-free shortenings and oils that are finding their way into bakery food formulas

For ages, bakers relied on ?natural? animal fats to impart many functional and flavourful attributes in bakery foods. These animal fats included butter, lard and tallow, and proved beneficial to bakery food formulas. However, they lacked consistency, and when cholesterol became a hot-button issue, these animal fats were reviled, and the industry sought a new source for its shortenings and oils.

Bakers replaced the animal fats in formulas with tropical oils such as palm and palm kernel oils. These products also proved beneficial, but, similar to animal fats, were maligned when concerns over tropical oils? saturated fat content forced bakers to reformulate again.

The baking industry?s third attempt to find the ideal shortening and oil solution, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, allowed oil producers to convert inexpensive vegetable oils, such as soybean oil, into a semi-solid fat or shortening. This process revolutionized the baking industry. Partially hydrogenated oils are stable and consistent, making them ideal systems for use in countless bakery food formulas. Plus, they can be tailored through the hydrogenation process, allowing bakers to narrowly define the characteristics of their shortenings and oils. This control and consistency places partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in the upper echelon of functional ingredients.

However, these oils are full of trans fatty acids, which we now know have negative health implications. As the buzz about this bad fatty acid grows, bakers have started to realise that consumers do, in fact, care about what they?re eating, and may stop buying a product if it?s loaded with harmful fats.

Trans fat solutions
When reformulating bakery foods to eliminate trans fatty acids, bakers must live with the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good: countless trans fat-free solutions exist from multiple suppliers.

The bad: some of these solutions, although functionally sound, may create additional health problems.

The ugly: replacing a trans fat shortening with a no-trans shortening is difficult; time consuming; and may cost millions of dollars in research and development expenses, labelling changes and ingredient costs.

Compounding these problems is the lack of a drop-in solution, despite the claims of some oil and shortening suppliers. ?It?s quite naive to think that shortening and oil suppliers can bring in a totally different fat system, drop it in, and nothing is going to change,? says Bob Wainwright of Cargill. ?There are going to be changes, and not only in terms of expectations for the final product, but also changes in the bakery from the way we store the oil through the mix process to the bake and everything in between.?

As a result of these changes, bakers are urged to immediately start researching trans-free shortening and oil solutions. Finding the ideal oil solution for applications such as pan release and spray-on oils is fairly easy. But finding a trans-free shortening with the solidity and stability of a traditional shortening is more complicated.

?The problem is increasing the plasticity of the fat,? says Terese O?Neill of Danisco USA Inc. ?I don?t know of many commercial products that are offering the plasticity without increasing the saturated fats.?

Perhaps the easiest way to eliminate trans fats from a bakery food formula is to return to offshore oils, such as palm oils and palm kernel oils. These oils are naturally semi-solid at room temperature without partial hydrogenation. This alone proves extremely useful in many bakery food formulas. Using palm and palm kernel oils also allows bakers to eliminate the terms ?hydrogenation? and ?partial hydrogenation? from ingredient legends. Palm oil also can be tailored, similar to hydrogenation, by a process called fractionation.

?Through various processes of fat modification, palm oils can be tailored to look and perform like a shortening, filler fat or coating fat,? says Jeffrey Fine of Aarhus United.

However, palm and palm kernel oils contain high levels of saturated fats, which also have to be listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel. If a bakery opts for this trans-free solution, they eliminate trans fats, but increase saturated fat content.

Oil blends
As an alternative to both trans-fat shortenings and straight palm oils, many bakers are employing oil blends that promote the functionalities of a variety of oils. ?The idea is to manipulate the blend ratios in order to arrive at the proper textural attributes in the finished shortening,? Wainwright says.

One of the most popular blends has fractions obtained from a palm hardstock with a liquid oil, such as canola
One of the most popular blends, according to many oil suppliers, is a blend of fractions obtained from a combination of palm and palm kernel oil that is a hardstock, with a liquid oil, such as canola. This blend draws on palm oil?s plasticity and canola oil?s low saturated fat content to create a shortening that is semi-solid, but is lower in saturated fats than straight palm oil. The blend also contains no trans fats. In the blend, the hardstock that is obtained from the palm oil entrains the liquid oil, and makes a plastic shortening possible.

?It?s a very common solution and it?s a good solution because it allows bakers to have a better nutritional profile by blending a liquid fat with a solid hard stock,? Fine says.

Other oil blends also are making inroads into bakery food formulations. One such product uses a high oleic canola oil and fully hydrogenated cottonseed oil. ?The building block is a trait-enhanced canola oil, which gives the oxidative stability that is needed to deliver the shelf life that is required,? Wainwright says. ?Then, the fully hydrogenated oil builds the structure and body.? Using fully hydrogenated oils in bakery food formulas does not contribute trans fats, but it does increase saturated fat content. Plus, many consumers may be cautious of buying a product with the word ?hydrogenated? in the ingredient legend.

Trait-enhanced oils are altered to reduce the amount of polyunsaturated fats, which compromise oxidative stability. The resulting oils are high oleic/low linolenic. These trait-enhanced oils are used in oil blends to create a semi-solid shortening with oxidative stability.

Trait-enhanced oils also can be used alone for applications where liquid oil is suitable, such as a spray for crackers. Some of these oils even have been used to replace shortening in sandwich crackers made for the organic and natural foods industry. The downside to these trait-enhanced oils is their availability. Generally, these crops are contract acreage, meaning bakers may have to book their oils up to 18 months in advance. Plus, these oils carry a premium price.

Additional solutions
Besides tropical oils and oil blends, many ingredient suppliers have developed unique ways to create trans-free shortenings and oils. Danisco USA Inc uses a combination of emulsifiers and oil to create a gel system that mimics the functionality of a shortening in a variety of applications, including cookies, crackers and tortillas.

For doughs that require minimal machineability, the company uses a monoglyceride emulsifier that provides the aeration, cell structure and mouthfeel of a shortening. The company also offers a solution that combines several emulsifiers: monoglycerides, propylene glycol monoesters, DATEM, LACTEM and/or SSL. This second system provides structure and promotes improved handling, lubricity and ideal mouthfeel in extruded or pressed doughs.

Bunge Oils uses a patented process of partial hydrogenation that uses a different catalyst than standard hydrogenation, and employs a special treatment process that allows the hydrogenation of oils without adding trans fats.

?The catalyst interacts with the oil and positions the structure of the molecules so the hydrogen attacks in a certain way,? Frank Kincs of Bunge Oils says. ?The oil is hydrogenated to a point where it develops some saturates, but not trans.?

Other oil suppliers are using the interesterification process, which dates back 50 years. This process takes liquid oil and fully hydrogenated oil and blends them together and interesterifies them. This allows the oil supplier to tailor the melting properties of the end product. Currently, interesterified oils command a premium price point and are of limited supply.

Before choosing any trans-free shortening or oil, bakers must carefully look at the current and future supply of the ingredient. Just because an oil source is in abundant supply now does not mean that it will always be available. Bakers also must define their wish list when sourcing a trans-free solution. For the most part, these solutions will not meet every expectation, and bakers must specify what are the most important attributes to a product?s success.

Keith Seiz is editor/associate publisher of Baking Management, a business-to-business publication that covers the wholesale baking industry. Respond: [email protected]

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