The skinny on fats and oils
Despite all of the fuss about fat, it’s not necessarily a bad ingredient. We must have fats and oils in our daily diets. Shortening plays multiple roles in snack and bakery products, such as adding richness, texture, flavor and mouthfeel. It also impacts how products handle and look and how long their shelf life will be. But what kinds should be used today in a baked food or snack?
Classified by their structure, dietary fats of different types affect the human body differently. Saturated fats (found mostly in animal products) increase blood cholesterol, which is a risk factor in coronary heart disease. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to lower blood cholesterol. Omega 6 and Omega 3 fats can be beneficial, but trans-fatty acids (or trans-fats) can be harmful, though they were used to make baked products, pies, cakes, biscuits and buns for years.
Oils are usually liquid fats at normal room temperature, while the term, “fat,” usually refers to solid fats at normal room temperature. “Lipids” refers to both liquid and solid fats, along with other related substances (usually in a medical or biochemical context), that are not soluble in water.
“Fats and oils are the good stuff,” states Roger Daniels, vice president of research, development and innovation at Stratas Foods, Memphis, Tenn. “They make foods taste great, and as they are macronutrients, they are important building blocks for the human body both nutritionally and functionally.”
Stratas offers a portfolio of shortenings, margarines and oils for a wide range of product applications, such as cookies, crackers, cakes, pastries, croissants, frozen dough, icings, pie dough, donuts and fried foods. Stratas’ specific premium bakery shortening line comprises Sweetex, Primex, Golden Sweetex and Nutex, and is supported by a shortening line of including Alpine, BBS, Buckeye, Hymo, Hytex and Super Fry, which provide performance for an array of bakery and snack applications.
“Fats and oils function to transfer heat in frying applications, contribute to structure in bakery applications and carry flavor and other minor ingredients in spray-oil applications,” Daniels adds. “Strategies for removing trans-fats from shortening and oils have been via the use of oils like palm; high-oleic oils such as high-oleic sunflower, high-oleic soybean and high-oleic canola; and the proliferation of enzymatically interesterified shortening options based on soybean oil.”
The end of trans-fats?
Trans-fat is being eliminated from many baked goods and snacks and being replaced with “better-for-you” fats. On Nov. 7, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will require the food industry to gradually phase out trans-fats, after determining that partially hydrogenated oils are not “generally recognized as safe” for use in food and a threat to people’s health.
Commissioner Margaret Hamburg says the move could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Hamburg also stated that while the amount of trans-fats in the American diet has declined dramatically in the last decade, they “remain an area of significant public health concern.”
In fact, trans-fats have long been criticized by nutritionists, and New York and other local governments have banned them. They are generally considered the worst kind of fats for the body’s heart—even worse than saturated fats, which can also contribute to heart disease. The FDA opened a 60-day comment period on this preliminary determination to collect additional data and to gain input on the time potentially needed for food manufacturers to reformulate products that currently contain artificial trans-fat, should this determination be finalized. The agency reportedly isn’t yet setting a timeline for the phase-out, but it will collect comments for the two-month period before officials determine how long it will take. Different foods may have different timelines, depending how easy it will be to find a substitute.
“We want to do it in a way that doesn’t unduly disrupt markets,” states Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods. However, he adds, “the food industry has demonstrated that it is, by and large, feasible to do.”
Also, regarding the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), Washington, stated in early November that “product safety is the number-one priority for America’s food and beverage companies, and we invest our reputations and resources to provide consumers with safe and nutritious products that meet their preferences and lifestyle needs.
“Through our efforts at product reformulation and the development of suitable alternatives, trans-fats that are not naturally occurring, have been drastically reduced in the food supply. Since 2005, food manufacturers have voluntarily lowered the amounts of trans-fats in their food products by more than 73%. Consumers can be confident that their food is safe, and we look forward to working with the FDA to better understand their concerns and how our industry can better serve consumers.”
The FDA says that, in recent years, many food manufacturers and retailers have already voluntarily decreased trans-fat levels in many foods and products that they sell. Trans-fat can be found in some processed foods, such as certain desserts, microwave popcorn products, frozen pizzas, margarines and much more. But numerous retailers and manufacturers have already demonstrated that many of these products can be made without trans-fat.
In the wake of the agency’s announcement, IOI Loders Croklaan, Channahon, Ill., is inviting food manufacturers to its Creative Studio to reformulate applications with its existing suite of readily available trans-fat-free solutions. “We have long provided oil and shortening solutions that are free of partially hydrogenated oils, and we look forward to sharing our reformulation expertise with food brands to eliminate PHOs from their applications,” notes chief operating officer Bill Troy. “Trans-fat reduction and providing healthier alternatives has been our greatest focus.”
Gerald McNeill, Ph.D., vice president of research and development, agrees. “We understand that everything from an application’s label to the sensory experience it provides is crucial to the consumer and the brand, and we take care to maintain that integrity while eliminating polyunsaturated oils with our nongenetically modified organism (GMO) solutions,” he says IOI Loders Croklaan has an expansive suite of oil and shortening offerings, such as its latest innovation, FuseRite colored and flavored palm shortenings. Launched at this year’s IBIE show, the new functional FuseRite products are designed to be creamy, consistent and easy to use says Tim Surin, director of sales and marketing.
“We develop products that address functional and nutritional challenges new segments and markets will encounter when removing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from their current applications,” Surin adds. He sees a resurgence in product innovation in fats and oils after what he describes as several years of cost-reduction activity across the market. “Interest is high in differentiation for both existing products as well as developing new, exciting innovations that revitalize a brand. The market is interested in chocolate additions, delivering a premium experience, incorporating flavors in new and unique ways…With our recently launched Creative Studio, we are well-positioned to truly partner with customers and maximize the fat phase in their innovations and ideas. We’re also working to tailor many standard product offerings with the recent news from the FDA in the potential ban on partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.”
Spare the saturates
Lynne Morehart, oils and shortenings senior principal scientist at Cargill, Wayzata, Minn., says as manufacturers develop new products, they tend to already have considered the restrictions around oil and fat types they consider acceptable. “They may or may not have made decisions around nutritional restrictions,” she explains. “We are asked for guidance through just about any bakery product and work closely with customers to help them create baked goods and snacks that fit their product goals. If the product has a sustainability halo, they might want to use RSPO- (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil)-certified palm oil. Or if they are trying to reduce the fat content on the label, we can work with them to determine a fat or oil solution to help them meet their targets.”
Bunge North America, St. Louis, works with products from potato chips and snack crackers to Danish and puff pastry, and everything in between, says John Jansen, vice president of innovation. Approximately 80% of the new products moving through its R&D system are custom made for specific uses. The other 20% are products developed and commercialized into the market by Bunge.
“Our focus has shifted over the last 18 months from trans-fat elimination to saturate reductions,” Jansen explains. “In early 2013, we introduced our Saturates Sparing line of shortenings, which include a portion of dietary fiber. In 2014, we will deliver a new version of Saturates Sparing without hydrogenation, along with a margarine version, each with the ability to reduce saturated fats by 60% in a snack or baked item.”
High on oleics
Qualisoy, St. Louis, which is funded through the United Soybean Board (USB), doesn’t develop products, but the processing and refining industries represented on its board of directors do. The industry organization works to promote enhanced-trait soybean oils and works with processors and refiners as well as represents interests across the soybean value chain. Qualisoy says that the fats and oils focus now is on lowering saturated fats, as trans-fat is disappearing from the American diet.
Most bakery shortenings are a blend of liquid oil and “hard fat.” Richard Galloway, a Qualisoy consultant, explains: “Hard fat lends structure to bakery products. Before 2006, most hard fat came from hydrogenated vegetable oils, usually soybean oil, which produced trans-fat as a byproduct. Today, most hard fat comes from palm oil or palm-oil derivatives, so food companies have swapped trans-fat for saturated fat to some degree. These same food companies are looking for ways to reduce saturated fat, often in the products that used to be relatively high in trans-fat content.”
Galloway says high-oleic soybean oil can provide an affordable liquid oil to blend with palm oil to provide adequate heat stability with lower overall saturated fat. “An even better solution is a blend of high-oleic soybean oil with interesterified soy oil,” he says. “Hydrogenated vegetable oil was being attacked for its trans-fat content, so industry perfected enzymatic interesterification. This process creates hard fat from commodity soybean oil, with very similar results as hydrogenation, without the trans-fat. Most applications that used partially hydrogenated vegetable oil prior to 2006 can replace that fat system with an interesterified soybean oil-based blend today.”
So the trend is to reduce saturated fat, Galloway says. But while food companies are cutting it, they must simultaneously create new product introductions that taste good and have fewer calories. “High-oleic soybean oil targets existing products that use imported, high-stability liquid oils, expensive high-stability oils and fat systems with high saturated fat for oxidative stability,” he says. “This type of soybean oil also provides an affordable, domestic, high-stability liquid oil that can be used as a key ingredient in new products and touts lower saturated fat, good flavor and long shelf life.”
ADM Oils’ Michelle Peitz, technical sales representative in Decatur, Ill., says ADM Oils has been a leader in the development and supply of oils and fats that have “zero g. trans-fat per serving” since 2003. “We are now working with DuPont Pioneer [a developer and supplier of advanced plant genetic] to produce and supply high-oleic soybean oil, high-oleic soybean oil/palm blends and enzymatically interesterified high-oleic soybean oil-based products for snack and bakery applications,” she says. The trait-enhanced soybean oil offers increased stability compared to commodity soy and can be used in more applications.
“Increased stability is achieved through an oleic content of less than75% and decreased linolenic content of less than 3%,” Peitz continues. “High-oleic soybean oil also provides excellent oxidative stability as a standalone oil or in combination with palm or enzymatically interesterified shortenings. But in today’s market, there isn’t just one oil product that fulfills a specific bakery or snack application’s needs. Many options are available, and food manufacturers are taking advantage of that to meet consumer demands and differentiate themselves from the competition.”
The challenge, she says, is finding the best solution for the requirements. “Labeling, economics, availability, stability, flavor and nutrition are also key considerations in determining what that solution is,” she points out. “Communicating to your oil supplier about the limiting constraints in initial discussions helps find the best resolution.”
Galloway notes that high-oleic soybean oil also has an extremely long oxidative stability index (OSI), so it can extend shelf life without introducing any known allergens. “And soybean oil works well with wheat flour substitutes, such as grain sorghum flour,” he adds.
Bakers and snack food marketers also want to avoid having to label their products with “hydrogenated” and “trans-fat,” but have to contend with too much saturated fat in their opinions, an opinion shared by many nutritionists, Galloway adds. “New developments include a soybean that’s high in stearidonic acid, and plant agronomic characteristics are being improved,” he says. “The body converts stearidonic acid directly into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an essential Omega 3 fatty acid linked with improved heart health.”
Jansen says that a few years ago much of the industry used base stocks, driven by partial hydrogenation. “When we blended them together, we could make functional products across a very wide product platform for numerous applications,” he observes. “Without partial hydrogenation, the industry has moved to stable liquid oil systems with a structuring fat component made from some form of hard fat, either fully hydrogenated or interesterified and fractionated, to provide the needed structure. Customers also have a renewed interest in enzymatic interesterification, a ‘green’ technology that produces a plastic shortening from liquid inputs without creating trans-fatty acids.”
Thus, clean and simpler labels are in demand, as well as nonGMO products, in light of current legislation being driven at the state level. “Where frying is concerned, customers are moving toward heart health and stable oils that are high in monounsaturated fatty acids like high-oleic canola and soybean,” Jansen adds. “In the case of shortenings, the industry has turned to palm-based products or enzyme interesterified domestic fats. Each provides structure for dough applications and the stability needed for long shelf life at the grocery store level. Depending on the solution, prices are generally very competitive compared to the partial hydrogenated product of years past.”
Stratas Foods’ Daniels sees demand for high-oleic oil solutions such as high-oleic sunflower, soybean and canola oil. “Demand for functional shortenings is based on naturally occurring sources of saturates like palm or enzymatically interesterified shortenings,” he says. “We also notice customers adding ‘safe, simple, and sustainable’ to their baseline demands for taste, quality, convenience and price. Our response is packaged shortening, margarine and oils that are consistent relative to the desired functional attributes and optimized from a nutritional perspective. Oils balanced between polyunsaturates and monounsaturates, such as Frymax Sun Supreme and Frymax Soy Supreme, distinguish themselves as exceptional frying mediums and spray oils. They are in demand because they work extremely well. In addition, they’re naturally stable, virtually trans-fat free and available from domestic sources.”
Daniels also says that a second demand is for fats that have natural levels of saturates, like palm. “The great attribute about palm-based shortenings is they help address the issue of removing trans-fat from bakery and snack products,” he says. “The challenge is overcoming the plasticity or relatively low functional range of conventional palm based shortenings when compared to traditional partially hydrogenated shortenings.”
Lightening up with Omegas
However, consumers still voice negative opinions over the use of “hydrogenated” ingredients. They want lower overall fat content and lower saturated fat content per serving, a drive toward healthier options, which can be difficult when developing snack and bakery products. Cargill’s Morehart says that recognizing the value of Omega 3s continues to grow with consumers.
One of Cargill’s latest initiatives is a joint venture with BASF Plant Science to co-develop a new dietary source of EPA/DHA that will make it easier for consumers globally to achieve optimal intakes of EPA- and DHA-rich Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. “This next-generation canola oil containing EPA/DHA will enable food, pharmaceutical and nutritional supplement manufacturers to deliver the potential health benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids in a wide variety of new, cost-effective consumer products available by the end of the decade,” Morehart explains.
In fact, she adds, the growing awareness of the health benefits of Omega 3 is fueling double-digit growth for Omega 3 products. “We look forward to working to incorporate a shelf-stable, plant-based Omega 3 oil into customers’ snack and bakery products,” she adds.
Jansen says Bunge has been successful at adding fiber to its portfolio over the last few months. “Fiber brings stability to liquid oil systems and reduces saturated fats without affecting the functionality of the finished product,” he notes. “We also are working on a number of systems designed to increase the stability of Omega 3 fatty acids in oil and throughout the shelf life of the finished product.”
Omega 9 oils are also a viable choice, notes Mary K. LaGuardia, market manager, Omega 9 oils at Dow AgroSciences, Indianapolis. LaGuardia agrees that naturally stable oils are replacing partially hydrogenated oils for shelf life stability. “They’re being blended with saturated fats to manage total saturated fat levels,” she says. “Omega 9 oils are used in a number of different categories, including fried snacks, granola bars, microwave popcorn and crackers.”
Consumers want improved quality of fats they are consuming, she continues. “According to a 2012 Gallup Study of healthy fats and oils, consumers are increasingly avoiding foods containing bad fats. In fact, 64% of Americans are actively trying to consume less saturated fat, and 64% are actively trying to consume less trans-fat. Additionally, consumers are seeking to increase consumption of canola more than any other crop oil.”
Although Baby Boomers are the demographic most concerned about risk factors for heart disease, a surprising number of Gen Xers and Millennials are just as concerned, LaGuardia tells SF&WB. “Our product has zero trans-fat, so if more snack food producers and bakers heed the FDA’s recent warning about trans-fats, Omega 9 oils are poised to find a custom solution for them,” she says.
Omega 9 oils can serve new snacks and baked goods well, LaGuardia states. “As the next generation of healthy oils, saturated fat content decreases, while heart healthy monounsaturated fats are increased in products,” she explains. “In baked goods that need some solid fat for structure and mouthfeel, Omega 9 oils can be blended with hard fats to achieve an overall lower saturated fat level.”
They can also provide an equal or longer shelf life to products having traditional, high-saturated-fat shortenings, without the need for antioxidants and stability additives, she says. When the oil is absorbed into a product, stability is needed to support the shelf life. This can also lead to cleaner labels and economies. “Omega 9 oils adapt well to spray oils for crackers and similar items as they resist polymerization— or ‘gunking up’ on equipment, which is a big plus for bakers and snack food manufacturers,” LaGuardia adds. “Oil stability is necessary because oils often need to stand up to a high heat process.”
When frying, there’s the need for “breakdown products” to condition the oil and produce desirable fried flavor notes. “While that’s an important sensory aspect to oil, an overabundance of such breakdown compounds can negatively affect flavor,” she says. “If the finished food must taste good, manufacturers must balance stability with flavor development. For that, you need the right balance of fatty acids.”
Alison Neumer Lara, account supervisor at CanolaInfo, an information source regarding canola oil, says that the recent FDA decision that all but bans trans-fat will likely mean that consumers are even more wary of the fats and oils in baked goods and snacks, which historically relied on trans-fats for flavor and stability.
“Today consumers are looking for products made with healthier vegetable oil such as canola oil, which is free of trans-fat and cholesterol, is low in saturated fat and is high in heart-healthy Omega 3 fat,” she says. “Canola oil is increasingly popular because it’s versatile and affordable. Canola oil has half the saturated fat of olive oil, costs a fraction of the price and lets the flavor of other ingredients shine through.”
Lara points out that high-oleic or high-stability canola oil is developed through traditional plant breeding. “It needs no hydrogenation or modification, providing processors with a heart-healthy oil that’s low in saturated fat for a cleaner product label,” she says.
SK Food International, Fargo, N.D., produces expeller-pressed oils including nonGMO canola, nonGMO corn, organic and conventional safflower, sunflower and organic coconut oils for use in chips, extruded snacks, fried foods, baking mixes, crumb coatings and baked goods.
“Our oils offer high levels of polyunsaturated, rather than saturated, fats,” explains Tara Froemming, marketing coordinator at SK Food International. “The oils are expeller-pressed, so [they] are mechanically processed without the use of chemicals, so offer polyunsaturated, rather than saturated, fats. For our canola and sunflower oils, we also offer high-oleic oils; which together with being expeller-pressed, results in healthier oil options. Demand has been great for healthier alternatives.”
Right now, nonGMO canola oil is competitive in pricing with other oils the company offers, making it popular for that reason, Froemming says, adding, “But we also receive many requests and inquiries for nonGMO corn oil.”
Processing and other challenges
There are a few primary challenges in marketing high-stability soybean oil, according to Galloway. One is recalcitrant regulators in the European Union who don’t have a sense of urgency in deregulating high-oleic soybean oil for the consumption in the EU. While this process has been underway for years, regulators just haven’t gotten around to finalizing their approval, though it is expected in the next calendar year. The second challenge, according to Galloway, is the interim period in which the industry has very limited supplies of high-oleic soybean oil and not enough to supply multiple national clients.
Another consideration is that a one-size-fits-all shortening is rare. “A mistake we see is a customer trying to find a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution,” echoes IOI Loders Croklaan’s Surin. “Other factors such as manufacturing conditions, supply-chain parameters and perceived consumer value need to be taken into account as well. Simply matching a specification of a different oil does not typically result in a success. We stay close to our baking and snack manufacturing customers and utilize our market intelligence to develop the right product in a timely manner. ”
Bakers and snack manufacturers also have to consider how their oil or fat choice will impact shelf life and cost. Stratas’ Daniels says his firm designs shortening and oil products with the end users’ particular setup in mind. “We follow a concept to commercialization stage-gate process that we call WIN,” he explains. “Key elements of the process involve a collaborative approach with customers to achieve formula identification, applications validation, plant proving and shelf-life assessment. FLEX PALM was a result of this process.”
Introduced at this year’s IFT expo, FLEX PALM has met with a great response, Daniels says. “FLEX PALM shortenings are smoother, creamier, more workable and more consistent from cube to cube, compared with typical palm shortenings, and are able to work over a wider temperature range and function throughout their shelf life.”
Importantly, shortenings must be machinable at the appropriate rate to achieve the optimal product, reminds Daniels. “They must also work through distribution, not negatively impacting the finished product relative to flavor or appearance as it makes its way to the consumer’s plate,” he adds. “And they must work on the consumer’s plate by contributing to the desired baked or snack food product experience.”
Addressing plasticity issues in palm shortenings, Stratas Foods has identified a way to expand the functional range and impart consistency by using a functional crystallization process, Daniels points out. The process allows palm-based shortenings to function more like partially hydrogenated shortenings without the trans-fat.
“The role of shortening in a bakery application is to provide or contribute to structure, tenderness, moisture, mouthfeel and satiety,” he explains. “Baking ingredients are either toughener/strengtheners (flour and eggs) or tenderizers (sugar and shortening). Great bakery products are a result of a balance between the tougheners and the tenderizers. Our role as shortening manufacturers is to prepare products that are consistent and appropriate time and time again.”
Scientists at Stratas are actively investigating areas associated with extending shelf life via interaction with its supply chain partners. “We help our customers understand their full range of shortening, margarine and oil options and find that the design desires of finished-product functionality, quality, nutritional need and price are greatly influenced by the shortening solution,” Daniels says. “We collaborate with customers to achieve customized solutions via a careful assessment of the needs and wants relative to each design attribute.”
Managing the movement of fats and oils, especially in bulk form, can be critical to the overall stability of a finished product, adds Jansen. “Manufactures need to constantly monitor the temperature and ensure that bulk systems are kept in motion to avoid separation or stratification over time, ideally a nitrogen-blanketing system is involved to assure quality. Supply chains have also become quite extensive, reaching great distances to secure palm and palm fractions to support trans-fat-free applications. Dealing with the right suppliers and plantations that are capable of clearly documenting their origination locations is key.”
Cargill’s Morehart says that the restrictive approach “is very different than what it was a few years ago. Function is still critical, but the breadth of offerings is narrower after restrictions are applied,” she says. “There is more use of palm oil when a solid fat is needed for structure and function of the baked food. Ingredients other than just fat may be used as part of an overall formulation change. For instance, customers might look at using a texturizing solution such as our CitriTex stabilizing blend, which can replace up to 50% of the oil in sweet bakery products thereby reducing the fat in the overall end product. Also, there is movement from what would historically be a solid fat in some applications into an oil or a creamy type product.”
When developing products with a baker or snack producer, fats and oils suppliers must understand the functional needs, nutritional constraints and cost constraints involved, Morehart adds, and work with customers to evaluate and fine-tune the options. They also should share their understanding of regulatory standards or regulations that may change and which customers may need to consider.