Trimming the Fat
By Maria Pilar Clark
As of Jan. 1, 2006, bakers and food manufacturers in the United States must comply with FDA-mandated requirements for trans fat labeling.
Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean; and so, betwixt them both, they licked the platter clean.”
Mother Goose may not have realized she was making a keen observation on society’s eating habits with her beloved rhyme, but under today’s finely tuned nutritional microscope, Jack would be analyzed as a dietetic derelict, and his portly wife would be lining up her appointment for gastric-bypass surgery.
Consumers are similarly divided, with some following any new diet trend currently making headlines, and others love handle-deep in the professional sport of belt-busting. The stragglers are left in a purgatory of continuous nutritional unknowing — to eat or not to eat, and what and when to eat it? That is the question, and the timer is ticking. The answer may lie in an increased awareness of trans and saturated fat.
As of Jan. 1, 2006, virtually all Food & Drug Administration-regulated food products labeled for sale in the United States will have to comply with new FDA-mandated requirements for trans fat labeling. The deadline for bakers and food manufacturers is about four months away, and energies are focused on reformulation.
Who’s Your Fatty?
To surpass trans fat’s negative rap, bakers and food manufacturers are turning to tropical and vegetable oils in the hopes that reformulating their products will energize sagging sales.
“Tropical oils are already saturated, thus [there] is no need for hydrogenation,” says Frank Stynes, senior vice president of Ventura Foods. “Since structure is needed to make a baked good, the saturated fat in palm oil gives this structure for functionality.”
According to Roger L. Daniels, director, new business development, Bunge Oils, the term “tropical oils” has historically been a generic label for palm kernel and coconut oils whose characteristics include: oils that are solids or semi-solid at room temperature, and natural oils that are higher in saturated fat.
Vegetable oils also has been a label for soybean, corn, canola, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed and peanut oils, Daniels explains. General characteristics include oils that are liquid at room temperature, oils that are higher in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acid and oils that are more susceptible to flavor and flavor reversion.
Daniels notes that the choice of vegetable versus tropical oils depends on a number of factors impacting the product, including desired physical composition of the oil or fat required during formulation, and the manufacturer-desired trans fat nutritional profile and availability.
“There are many differences between vegetable and tropical oils, and saturated fat is commonly cited as the biggest difference,” notes Steve Poole, director of Edible Oil Programs for the United Soybean Board.
Tropical oils such as palm oil and coconut oil, for example, typically contain anywhere between 50% and 90% saturated fats, respectively. That is significantly higher, Poole says, than vegetable oils, which generally contain between 10% and 25% saturates.
According to information provided by the United Soybean Board, tropical and vegetable oils can both be hydrogenated for use in specific applications, and as a result of the process, both would contain trans fat.
Because of the high saturated fat content, tropical oils require little, if any, hydrogenation for a number of applications, such as bakery shortenings and high-stability frying fats, explains Poole. To achieve higher melting points and elevated oxidative stability for these applications, vegetable oils are usually partially hydrogenated. However, even after partial hydrogenation, most vegetable shortenings and high-stability frying oils contain significantly less saturated fat than tropical oils.
Information provided by the United Soybean Board notes that many companies are considering replacing trans fat with saturated fat to avoid labeling trans fat on their products. This involves using oils that have higher levels of saturated fats, or fully hydrogenating vegetable oils, and using them to formulate trans fat-free shortenings. However, this process typically requires replacing trans fat with an even greater amount of saturated fat in order to match the performance of the original shortening.
“The FDA and nutritionists advise against increasing saturates to avoid trans fat labeling,” says Poole. “But in spite of the guidance, some companies are so concerned about labeling trans fat that they plan to increase the saturated fat in their products.”
The Skinny On Fat
Manufacturers have set their sights on reformulation in lieu of the FDA’s labeling mandate. Fortunately for them, a number of oils can be used in various snack and baked goods applications that will result in a strong low- or no-trans fat claim on package labeling. Better yet, many of these trans fat-alternative oils and shortenings are readily available and economical.
“Due to the wide availability of soy, shortening and oil products derived from soybean oil and converted into a typical ingredient form, are generally value-priced when compared to shortening and oil products derived from corn and cottonseed oils,” explains Daniels. He adds that shortening and oil products derived from tropical or “off-shore” oils also are economically viable in some products.
The challenge manufacturers face when using these ingredients are the saturated fat levels of tropical oils, which can result in a finished product with elevated saturated fat levels versus the sum of the saturates and trans level for conventional shortening and oil products.
“Bunge has a number of trans alternative products that are readily available with additional products expected to have full-scale commercial availability in the coming years,” Daniels says. Among them are two shortenings, a bakery margarine product and two types of oils.
Bunge’s Vream RighT is an all-purpose shortening suitable for pie crusts, cookies and baked snack products with a reduction in trans fat greater than 80%, and a reduction of trans fat and saturates greater than 33% than its conventional product option.
Another offering is Vreamay RighT, an emulsified shortening suitable for cakes and icings with the same reduction values of Vream RighT.
Victor RighT is a bakery margarine that can be applied to Danish applications, with a reduction in trans fat greater than 80% and a reduction of trans and saturates greater than 25%.
Bunge also offers two oils — NutraClear HS and Nutrium — that are suitable for spray oil applications and snack frying that are virtually trans fat-free. The first product is a high-oleic canola oil and the second is a low-linolenic soybean oil substitute.
Bunge is continuing to develop other trans fat-alternatives by expanding its capabilities relative to hydro technology, interesterification, custom blending, source oils augmentation, reduced-fat spreads and structured lipids.
“There are number of ways to make low- [or] no-trans products for bakery applications,” says Poole. “Oils that contain a high content of saturated fat are the most economical at this time, but usage in the United States has been limited because such fats increase blood cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol.”
According to Poole, most other methods of developing low-trans products use new or advanced technologies and involve some increase in price relative to traditional product.
The cost of the oil is also associated with the technology used, such as the use of exotic metal catalysts or modified processing procedures to limit trans fat during hydrogenation, interesterification, advanced formulation and blending techniques.
“Through an agricultural initiative named QUALISOY, the soybean industry is working to introduce new trait-enhanced oils that require little or no hydrogenation,” Poole says. “New soybean oils with less than 3% linolenic content, rather than [the] 7% traditionally found in soybean oil, have higher oxidative stability, increasing their functionality for some applications.”
Puratos Corp. is among the first in its sector to respond to trans fat awareness, and has launched a “Great Taste & Wellness” program. The range of products under the program combine nutritional and health benefits, along with excellent taste and affordability.
“Across the nation, consumers want to consume healthier products, without compromising on taste,” says Sara Garcia, trade marketing manager for Puratos.“They are becoming increasingly aware of the health risks related to obesity and over-consumption of fats, carbohydrates, and sugars,” she adds. “Each Great Taste & Wellness product is the result of extensive research and development, combined with local knowledge and experience as well as the expertise of Puratos’ global technical and development teams.
“Sensory analysis by consumer panels has confirmed that each product meets the highest standards in taste and structure,” she adds.
In the U.S., the range of Puratos products currently includes a series of Trans Fatty Acid (TFA) Free, Reduced Fat products. Among them are: Tegral Reduced Fat Crème Cakes, Reduced Fat Croissants, Tegral Reduced Fat Brownies and Reduced Fat Danish.
Puratos also introduced new mixes, bases and roll-ins that are trans fat-free, reduced in saturated fat and total fat, and most importantly, consumer approved.
Food formulators have been challenged to find solutions that will maintain product cost, saturated fat levels and ease of formulation while maintaining the same great taste and texture of their products.
“Citri-Fi offers a novel non-fat solution to address these concerns,” says Brock Lundberg, vice president of Technology for Fiberstar Inc.
Citri-Fi is a citrus-based fiber that has an extremely high capacity to bind water and oil. Lundberg notes that when Citri-Fi is hydrated with seven parts of water by weight, it can be used to replace 30% to 50% of formula oils or shortenings, thereby achieving a significant reduction in trans fat, saturated fat and calorie levels.
“When hydrated at this level, Citri-Fi has a bowl cost as low as 25 cents a pound,” says Lundberg.
This provides a cost-competitive alternative to most edible oils and shortenings, including palm oils and low trans shortenings currently being used in reformulations.
“This enables formulators to maintain or even reduce product costs,” Lundberg adds.
Moreover, according to Fiberstar, Citri-Fi has a unique ability to mimic fats and oils so that the taste, mouthfeel and freshness of reduced- oil products are similar to those of full-oil products.
“In recent taste comparisons, food formulators have had difficulty noting any differences between reduced-oil versions containing Citri-Fi, and full-oil versions of the same product,”notes Lundberg.
Citri-Fi’s unique characteristics enable it to be used to reduce costs and improve the nutritional label of a wide variety of applications including baked goods, icings, cream fillings, alfredo sauces, salad dressings, imitation cheeses and ice creams including reduced-fat roll-in shortening and margarine products.
Ventura Foods is developing heart-healthy options for the industry by incorporating canola and sunflower oils into its products. In addition, the company manufactures a line of no-trans fat frying oils.
Maywood, N.J.-based Stepan Food & Health Specialties has introduced Neobee MLT-B, a structured lipid that reduces the level of trans fat in products while incorporating the health benefits of medium chain triglycerides.
Reformulating has its challenges however, and bakers and snack manufacturers should keep several key points in mind.
“Most of the time, there are alternatives to oils high in trans fat,” explains Richard LeBoucher, senior applied R&D manager for Puratos. “However, while the alternatives are quite good, this does not mean that there are not challenges in application.”
From a nutritional point of view, he adds, “this could mean that the saturated fat content is increased. Additionally, the consistency or viscosity of the dough can be altered creating difficulties in your bakery from a handling point of view.”
Daniels adds that three of the main factors that affect a shortening or oil replacement decision include availability, the desired fatty acid nutritional profile and the desired physical composition of the oil or fat required during formulation and manufacturing to yield the preferred product in terms of melting point and solids content.
Incorporating changes for reformulation also varies depending on the application and the type of food. According to Poole, most oils that are considered to be low in trans fat or free of it have been formulated to take the place of partially hydrogenated oils. Oftentimes, this means there is some kind of alternative oil that can be used for virtually any application.
The challenges that companies may face are varied, but a number of common obstacles include a difficulty switching to liquid oil when having a history of using partially hydrogenated oils that are in solid form. Changing oils often results in an altered flavor profile, and the nutritional profile will change. Finally, some alternatives may have different health profiles that are not necessarily in tune with the original product.
“With proper research and testing, food companies will find a variety of oils that reduce or eliminate trans fat and that retain product quality,” notes Poole. “But, food manufacturers should also be prepared for some variances in new product formulations.”
The immediate challenge is to get the same functionalities as the higher trans fat product such as tolerance, volume, shelf life of the product, and resistance to oxidation, LeBoucher explains. “In the long run, the challenge will be not only to get rid of the trans fatty acids, but also to limit any additional saturated fat,” he says.
Ultimately, consumers choose snack and bakery products that deliver on taste, texture, quality, convenience and price. Changes in shortenings and oils used in snack and bakery products impact product traits, and replacements may negatively affect the finished product.
Companies are cognizant of the FDA deadline and the oilseed industry is making great strides in producing and promoting oils that can eliminate or reduce trans fat from products.
Mother Goose certainly knew what she was talking about. Too bad Humpty Dumpty turned a deaf ear. He might have fared better by trading in his low-carb diet for a high-fiber diet, munching on four and 20 blackbirds baked in a trans fat-free whole grain pie crust.