Even before FDA announced in 2013 that it would require food processors to start eliminating trans fats from their products, consumers were checking the packaging of their favorite cookies, crackers and other baked goods and avoiding those made with this unhealthy ingredient. Astute bakers and snack manufacturers quickly took note and began offering trans-fat-free alternatives.

While retail baked goods and snacks are now generally trans-fat-free, consumers are still scrutinizing product labels and avoiding those with ingredients they perceive as unhealthy, including certain types of fats and oils, such as partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs).

Consumer interest in PHO replacement is “much higher since November 2013, when the FDA announced the proposal to require partially hydrogenated oils to obtain permission to be used in any food or food ingredient,” says Rick Cummisford, director of quality control, Columbus Vegetable Oils, Des Plaines, IL. “We have developed a few shortening products that are based off of fractions of palm oil, interesterified shortening products and even a shortening based off of a novel emulsifier technology that provides similar properties to some shortenings of PHOs. We’ve also worked with several snack food manufacturers looking for replacements for PHO products.”

The company’s new products are blends based off clear oils, palm oil and various antioxidants to improve product stability, he says, and are being used in breads, pastries, cakes, chips, crackers and more. “They improve the ingredients list and replace the PHOs,” says Cummisford. “In some cases, the finished product will carry the same flavor, as customers often want to maintain the same characteristics as the original product.” He adds that for customers with newly developed products, the new oil blends allow for the performance needed by their production development groups.

Corbion Caravan, Lenexa, KS, which manufactures emulsifiers under its BFP and Alphadim product lines for the edible oils industry’s shortening and margarine applications, is leveraging its expertise in lipid chemistry to transition its entire emulsifier portfolio away from PHO, says Jim Robertson, product category manager. “Historically, many of these emulsifiers have been manufactured from partially hydrogenated oils,” he explains. “Approximately two years prior to the 2006 trans-fat labeling laws, there was a transition away from trans fat in the food industry, which led us to develop several non-PHO based emulsifiers.”

Meanwhile, Bunge Oils, Bradley, IL, is continuing to work with customers that want to reduce their products’ saturated fat footprint, says Bob Johnson, director of research and development. “Many have mandated reduction of saturated fat limits in their products,” he says. “Others have mandated that the saturates cannot be increased when PHOs are removed.”

Several years ago, Bunge’s innovation team developed a proprietary “saturate sparing” process to create functional, solid bakery shortening at levels as low as 12 to 16 percent. “To put this in perspective, soybean salad oil contains 16 percent saturates, and our developers have found a way to make a bakery shortening at or below that level of saturates,” says Johnson.

The company’s UltraBlends shortenings and oils, produced using this low-saturate technology, can be used in numerous commercial bakery applications, including cookies, biscuits and bakery mixes. “The low-saturate technology was designed specifically with the baker in mind,” says Johnson. “It allows for use in standard bakery formulations with minimal adjustment to processing.”

Expeller-pressed verraUltra and verraUltra9 canola oils from Viterra, Regina, Saskatchewan not only are low in saturated fat and free of trans fat and cholesterol, they’re also Non-GMO Project Verified, another important consideration for more consumers.

“Through the expeller-pressed process, we are able to maintain the natural nutritional value of our product and provide canola oil that is all-natural, refined, bleached and deodorized,” says Mark Riou, oilseeds merchandiser for the company. “We currently produce verraUltra Non-GMO expeller-pressed canola oil and verraUltra9 high-oleic Non-GMO expeller-pressed canola oil. These products differentiate us in the market, as most other processors rely on solvent extraction to remove the oil from the seed. Our ability to provide these high-quality oils is further supported by our far-reaching relationships and access to thousands of canola producers.”

Products incorporating verraUltra and verraUltra9, a high-oleic canola oil, include potato chips, tortilla chips, popcorn and croutons.

SK Food International’s also offers a variety of non-GMO, expeller-pressed and organic oils, including corn, sunflower, safflower, coconut and canola. According to Tara Froemming, the company’s market coordinator, the oils are suitable for snack food frying applications, baking mixes and frying baked goods. 

Corbion, meanwhile, recently added non-GMO emulsifiers to its portfolio, which includes Alphadim distilled monoglycerides, BFP mono- and diglycerides, Trancendim specialty monodiglyceride and Emplex, which interacts with both protein and starches.

Magic beans

Soybean oil continues to be popular among consumers and food manufacturers for numerous reasons. It’s versatility, it has a neutral flavor, it’s low in saturated fat, and it contains no trans fat. Given the amount of soybeans grown in the U.S. each year, it’s also readily available and competitive priced.

“The soybean industry introduced high-oleic soybean oil on a commercial scale in 2012, and the volume and geographic coverage has expanded each year thereafter,” says Richard Galloway, a consultant for QUALISOY, a soybean industry organization that educates the food industry and food industry influencers about soy-based edible oil innovations. “The 2014 crop—being harvested right now—will produce an estimated 90 million pounds of oil for consumption during 2015, and that volume is expected to grow to 230 million pounds for 2016 and up to 650 million pounds for 2017. Within five years, we should exceed 3 billion pounds of oil available.”

QUALISOY also promotes interesterified soybean oil, a replacement for the solid fat structure previously provided by PHOs. “IE soy is ideal as a base for almost all shortening products previously based on PHO,” says Galloway. “IE soy blended with high-oleic soybean oil creates a shortening that has an incredible resistance to oxidation in high-heat applications and provides extraordinary shelf life for packaged products, while keeping saturated fat content as low as possible.”

Alone, high-oleic soybean oil can be used as a spray oil for crackers, an ingredient in pizza dough and a medium for deep frying donuts, says Galloway. Shortening made with liquid soybean oil and other solid fat sources can be used for icings and dough of all kinds.

“Whether you need liquids or solids, the newer [oil] alternatives out there today are high-oleic soybean oil,” says Tom Tiffany, senior technical sales manager, ADM Oils, Decatur, IL. “It’s in its third year of real commercialization.”

Blends of high-oleic soybean oil with fully hydrogenated vegetable oil or interesterified high-oleic soybean oil with fully hydrogenated soybean oil or palm fractions are the newest items in development, but not yet on the market, says Tiffany. “We supply high-oleic soybean oil to the market today, so it is commercially available as a single, liquid oil, but we haven’t commercialized any blends of high-oleic soybean oil with either palm or palm fractions or interesterified high-oleic soybean oil,” he explains.

Good oils for good health

Health-conscious consumers are beginning to recognize that not all fats are bad and that some have beneficial attributes.

“As nutrients, EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to play key roles in the body,” says Kristine Sanschagrin, marketing manager, specialty seeds and oils, Cargill, Hopkins, MN. “Although specific quantitative intake recommendations for EPA and DHA have not been established in the United States, various health and governmental organizations worldwide have made recommendations for fish and/or EPA and DHA omega-3 intake as part of a balanced diet.

“Consumers are beginning to take notice. Ninety-eight percent of consumers are aware of omega-3s and six in 10 have general knowledge that they’re good for you. Half of consumers surveyed said they are more likely to purchase a product with an omega-3 claim. All of this support food manufacturers’ ability to formulate with EPA and DHA omega-3s.”

Last June, Cargill introduced IngreVita EPA/DHA omega-3 oil, a shelf-stable, sensory-neutral oil that can boost the value of snack products. “In the past, many food manufacturers were reluctant to add omega-3s to their food formulations due to the unstable flavor, difficulty of storage and handling, and high cost per serving,” Sanschagrin explains. “[IngreVita] is the first product of its kind to offer omega-3 benefits without negative impacts on cost or taste.

“Our unique blending technology ensures a neutral flavor and ambient storage, as well as a low cost per serving at typical inclusion levels. Plus, IngreVita makes formulation easy by simply replacing a portion of the oil found in snack products.” Applications, to date, include breakfast biscuits (cookies), crackers, yogurt, meal-replacement beverages, smoothies and a cream-filled beignet. 

“I think the demonization of fat has ended,” says Dave Dzisiak, commercial leader for grains and oils, Dow AgroSciences LLC, Indianapolis. “Within the nutrition community, there’s a certain understanding and acceptance that we need to get healthier oils into our diet. The goal isn’t to cut fat intake, but to get the right kind of fat into our diet.”

The company’s omega-9 canola oil delivers a combination of high-oleic (omega-9) and low-linoleic fatty acids without comprising taste or performance. “We’ve got some things in the pipeline, including a sunflower oil, the first oil that would have a zero saturated fat claim,” says Dzisiak. “It’s very high in monounsaturates, which gives it an excellent shelf life. It’s very stable and could be used in a broad variety of applications, especially in the snack food category.”

Dzisiak says the company’s current portfolio fits in well in this category because its oils are low in saturates, are stable and have clean flavor profiles. “Some of these new snack foods have pretty exotic ingredients, so you don’t want your oil fighting with the product’s design or masking or bringing in a flavor that doesn’t fit with the product’s concept,” he explains.

 Despite being “fairly mature as far as innovation goes,” the edible oil industry has seen significant reformulations take place the last 10-12 years because of the FDA’s trans-fat-free mandate, says Tiffany. “There’s been quite a bit of growth in alternative blends and alternative modification techniques that can be used to create viable low-trans alternatives for bakery and snack,” he says. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen the growth of palm oil and palm oil blends. We’ve seen the growth of enzymatic interesterification with soybean oil and fully hydrogenated soybean oil. We’ve seen the development of low-linoleic, high-oleic canola and, most recently, the development and commercialization of high-oleic, low-linoleic soybean oil. We’ve taken steps along the way to continue to evolve the edible oil industry.”