As consumers become more and more health conscious, bakers and snack producers are looking to shave off a bit from their fat-filled formulas to deliver cleaner-label products.

Today’s consumers constantly are searching for the ideal product - one that is clean label, functional, cost-effective, portable, shelf stable and tasty.

That’s because they want it all.

It’s also why many producers are reformulating their processes to deliver scrumptious baked goods and snacks without all the fat and with fewer calories. In addition to cutting back on the fat, especially trans fats, they’re turning to vitamin- and antioxidant-enriched solutions to supplement taste and texture.

Despite such health benefits, cutting back on one type of shortening or switching to another oil can cause some challenges for many bakery and snack application.

“Today, formulators are attempting to completely remove trans-fats and improve the organoleptic qualities of their product,” says Jill McKeague, antioxidant applications manager for Kalsec Inc. “The main obstacle to accomplishing this is a loss in overall stability.”

To overcome such obstacles, the Kalamazoo, Mich.-based company created Herbalox Seasoning XT, which is a low-flavor natural antioxidant that can be used in a variety of products including granola bars and fried and extruded snacks, she says.

“The consumer is continually becoming more health conscious,” McKeague says. “Combined with that is the need for convenience. For the food producer, this means creating healthy, flavorful foods that are portable, portion controlled and shelf-stable.”

Consumers also are requesting certain ingredient profiles that require adding or replacing what’s already in the formula without changing the end-product’s taste, says Roger Daniels, director of research and development for Bunge Oils. As a result, the St. Louis, Mo.-based ingredient supplier developed a special hydrogenation process that reduces trans-fat by more than 80%.

“Edible oil manufacturers are answering the call with shortening, margarine and oils approaches that rely on minimally processed oils and structuring fat elements to optimize the levels to customer specified targets,” Daniels says.

Additionally, the majority of shortening, margarine and oils ingredients used today offer greatly reduced trans-fat levels, he notes.

“The three principal uses of shortening, margarines and oils are to confer structure in bakery products, serve as a spray oil for crackers and cereal and to provide a means for heat transfer in frying applications,” Daniels says.

To provide stability and a more healthful product profile, Cargill Oils and Shortenings plans to roll out its own version of low trans-fat formulations under the Clear Valley line.

“For example, Clear Valley low-saturate canola oil - a high-stability canola oil with 4-4.5% saturated fat, 25% less saturated fat than conventional canola oil and the lowest amount of saturated fat of any vegetable oil offered to food manufacturers to date - will be available for testing next year,” says Bob Wainwright, technical director for the Minneapolis-based ingredient supplier. “Other industry developments include high-oleic/low-saturated soybean oil, high-stearic soybean oil and high-Omega-3 soybean oil varieties. These oils will offer improved performance with respect to oxidative stability as well as label benefits.”

Companies also are creating new formulations that add flavor, stability and texture to products without the extra fat.

“Ideally, new ingredients are ‘drop ins,’ however, it has often proved necessary to alter formulations, order of ingredient addition, mixing conditions or other process parameters to successfully use new shortening and oil systems in many bakery applications,” Wainwright says.

Furthermore, ingredients such as Asoyia’s ULTRA Low Linolenic Soybean Oils contain less than 1.5% linolenic acid content, which is the lowest amount available in a soy oil today, according to the Iowa City, Iowa-based company.

“Bakers are using the new generation of oils in the form of blends, interesterified or straight, as they fit the application. Some are also using blends of cottonseed, corn, soy, palm or palm kernel oil in various forms,” says Monoj Gupta, president of MG Edible Oil Consulting International, which provides consulting services to the baking, frying and vegetable oil processing industries.

Preserve and Protect

Trimming the fat may result in cleaner label options, but doing so also can be as challenging as actually going on a diet to lose the extra pounds.

For instance, one of the biggest issues to consider when transitioning to a low trans-fat formula is product flavor stability throughout shelf life, McKeague says.

“The No. 1 concern of the consumer is taste. Since low trans-fat oils are less stable than their counterparts, rancidity and other off-flavor development quickly become the main focal point when developing a product,” she adds. “[Kalsec’s] natural antioxidants can add back the stability that was sacrificed due to the formulation change. Since our antioxidants are heat-stable, they can be added early in the processing stages and still be effective on the shelf.”

Additionally, it’s important to not assume that all alternative ingredients can be “drop-ins,” Wainwright says.

“It is often necessary to rethink the formula, order of ingredient addition, mixing protocol and other formulation variables to deliver a successful reformulation that consumers will accept and not judge different from the product they have purchased in the past,” he adds.

Likewise, Daniels suggests carefully coordinating the development cycle to minimize mistakes made from working with drop-in replacements.

“This is achieved… by applications development work at the snack or bakery manufacturer with pilot plant shortening, margarine and oils ingredients, culminating with a commercial run at the snack or bakery manufacturer attended by edible oil technical service professionals,” he says.

Because many baked and fried products are indulgence foods, Gupta adds, product integrity is critical to preserve the flavor, texture and satisfaction that meet consumers’ expectations.

“Every application, such as dough for baking, filling for cookies and crackers, spray oil for crackers, frying oil for salty snacks, they all need to meet certain stability,” Gupta explains. “The product must meet the shelf and code date requirements. There is a great deal of confusion between product code date and product shelf life. Companies have stepped into production using low trans-fat without considering potential processing and shelf life issues.”

Replacing trans fats and adding nutrition without sacrificing taste is no easy task. In the end, however, there may not be a choice because demanding consumers aren’t going to settle for anything less than getting everything that they want.

*Photo courtesy of Cargill Oils & Shortenings