Today’s consumers have very different expectations about the shortenings used in baked foods. Times have changed, and so have the fats and oils that bakers use. In this exclusive Q&A, Gerald McNeill, PhD, vice-president of R&D at IOI Loders Croklaan Americas, Channahon, IL, tells how — and why — these changes have taken place.
Baking & Snack: What’s new among the fats and oils that Loders Croklaan supplies for bakery use?
Gerald P. McNeill, PhD: The majority of baking applications require a semi-solid fat to impart the typical structure and texture that characterizes a baked good. Long ago, the only fats available for food preparation were of animal origin, such as butter, lard and beef tallow. The identity of baked goods was defined by these semi-solid fats and consumers expect the same structure, texture and taste for their baked goods today.
When liquid vegetable oils became widely available for the first time about 100 years ago, bakers found that they did not provide the required texture for most applications. Instead, scientists came up with a chemical process called hydrogenation to convert unsaturated liquid oils into a semi-solid trans fat to match animal fats. Partially hydrogenated oils were used widely in foods for about 30 years until trans fat was found to increase risk of heart disease more than any other fat or oil.
Recently, several new fats and oils options have emerged as alternatives to semi-solid partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. In the last few years new oilseed varieties have been developed with altered fatty acid compositions (including high oleic canola oil and soybean oils). Unfortunately, like their polyunsaturated predecessors, these oils are still liquid and on their own do not provide the necessary structure and texture required for most baked goods and snack foods.. But due to their high stability they will likely be used widely as frying fats and salad oils. In the last 30 years palm oil has emerged as a major source of edible oil, recently surpassing soybean oil in global production. It differs from seed oils in one critical parameter – it is naturally semi-solid.
Loders Croklaan is vertically integrated with IOI group, one of the largest producers of palm oil in Malaysia and has access to all fraction options in the industry today. In response to the need for a zero-trans semi-solid fat for baked goods, Loders Croklaan turned to palm oil as the best solution. To date Loders has created more than 100 products based on palm oil, and provides standard or tailor made solutions to almost any bakery need around the world today.
What benefits do these provide in bakery applications? How do they compare in performance to the partially hydrogenated fats that were previously the staple of the baking industry?
Loders Croklaan chose palm oil as the optimum substitute for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Palm is a naturally semi-solid fat that when used on its own and is an excellent product for use in the manufacture of many baked goods. It forms small, stable crystals that give a smooth texture and have the ability to stabilize small air bubbles during the baking process. Entrapment of air is essential in the ‘creaming’ process during baked good preparation, giving the finished product a light texture that is not dense or hard. Palm oil offers a long shelf life without the need for chemical processes due to the presence of natural antioxidants and a low level of unstable polyunsaturated fat.
Palm oil is a highly versatile ingredient. Although it is a single natural product, it can be readily converted into a wide variety of products, each designed to provide optimum performance in almost any baking and snack application. Using a physical process called fractionation, it can be can be easily separated into many different components called fractions. Each fraction differs with respect to hardness, melting point, texture and functionality. Blending different fractions in different proportions results in a wide range of innovative bakery products. Blending liquid vegetable oils to the fractions further extends the functional range of palm oil and almost any partially hydrogenated oil can be matched.
What criteria, besides cost, do your bakery customers most value about these new fats, oils and shortenings? Why?
In the case of shortenings, our bakery customers are mainly concerned about performance and functionality in their products. Baked goods rely mostly on the physical properties of semi-solid fats to impart the desired texture. Liquid oils alone cannot provide structure and are not useful for most baked goods. Palm oil is a naturally semi-solid shortening with a smooth texture and the ability to entrap small air bubbles – essential characteristics needed for most bakery applications. But a single shortening will not work in every bakery application. Different shortening properties are required for each bakery category, including cookies, pies, pizza, cakes, laminated products, icings, coatings, doughnuts and many more. Although palm oil is a single natural product, it can be readily converted into a wide variety of products, each designed to provide optimum performance in almost any baking and snack category. Using a physical process called fractionation, it can be can be easily separated into many different components called fractions. Each fraction differs with respect to hardness, melting point, texture and functionality. Blending different fractions in different proportions results in a wide range of innovative bakery products. Blending liquid vegetable oils to the fractions further extends the functional range of palm oil and the needs of almost any baked good can be met.
Many bakery customers are concerned about nutrition, and saturated fat reduction is often a target. Palm oil is often referred to as a “saturated” fat, and traditional wisdom says that saturated fats increase risk of heart disease. To address that issue, liquid oils can be blended with palm oil fractions that effectively soak up the liquid and still provide the desired functionality. In some applications shortenings with as low as 23% saturated fat can be used.
But saturated fat is not as bad as once believed, and recent science consistently shows that saturated fat neither increases or decreases risk of heart disease.
How important is the base fat (canola, corn, cottonseed, soy, sunflower, palm, peanut, etc.) in the formulator’s decision about which to use in a baked food or snack?
Palm oil is the most important natural base fat for all baked goods that require a semi-solid fat for functionality [see above]. Where functionality is required, there is no difference among liquid oils with respect to their inability to provide structure to baked goods and snack foods. Palm oil can be blend with any liquid oil to provide the essential functionality. Adding oil provides a reduction in saturated fat content of the blend.
An important factor to consider when blending liquid oil to palm oil is the stability of the oil. A high polyunsaturated fat content in the oil will result in a shorter shelf-life for the finished product and antioxidants may be required. High oleic canola and sunflower are the most stable of the liquid oils at present and new high oleic soybean oils will be available in commercial quantities in several years.
Looking ahead five years, what performance characteristics will be most important to bakers? Why?
Five years from now hydrogenated vegetable oil will be mostly eliminated from the diet. Baking and snack food companies will be able to direct more resources to developing new products. The versatility of palm oil will provide an excellent opportunity to support development of innovative products that require a solid structuring shortening. Today, Loders Croklaan already provides a service to “tailor make” shortenings that fit the needs of bakery customers.
The availability of new, stable liquid oils to blend with palm oil will provide a generation of reduced saturated fat shortenings with extended shelf life compared with traditional liquid oils.