Fat's Functions

by Laurie Gorton
Share This:

When adopting “health and wellness” as a strategy for bakery product development, the tactics for arriving at this goal must include proper choice of fats, oils and the shortenings made from them. In recent years, much work has been done to replace shortenings containing trans fats, but going “trans free” is only one choice. Elimination of hydrogenated shortenings helps clean up ingredient statements, while another option is to use fats high in omega-3 fatty acids that support good heart health.

Choosing the right fat or oil involves not only picking health benefits but also selecting manufacturing functionality. For many baked foods, such choices may require opening the door to saturated fats. Current developments, however, allow preparation of shortenings that have the performance of old-fashioned “hard” fats but with considerably lower saturated fat content.

“Shortening is used in bakery products to confer structure, tenderness and shelf life,” said Roger Daniels, director, R&D, Bunge North America, Bradley, IL. “In addition, the in-process functionality required by the baker or manufacturer relative to dough consistency and dough machinability indicates a balancing act when formulating to health and wellness targets.”

“Limiting factors involve the application and its processing requirements,” explained Lynn Lawrence, national technology manager, bakery, Stratas Foods, Memphis, TN. “When formulating to meet nutrition goals, you can eliminate some aspects, but you still need the shortening functionality.”

‘LOW,’ NOT ‘NO.’

Functionality explains the presence of saturated fats in many of the new shortenings being developed for bakery applications. From a functionality standpoint, the ideal bakery shortening is lard, a highly saturated animal fat. More than 30 years ago, bakers switched to allvegetable oils to take advantage of the healthier appeal of the mono- and polyunsaturated fats in these oils.

Vegetable oils, with only a few exceptions, are liquid oils and lack the creaming and structuring abilities that traditional bakery fats offer. Hydrogenation of liquid oils addresses that problem, giving these materials better plasticity, stability and structuring characteristics. The hydrogenation process, however, also flips many fatty acids from their natural cis configuration to their trans isomers. An increasing body of scientific research has shown the negative effect of trans fatty acids on heart health, hence their elimination from bakery shortenings.

“In health-and-wellness formulating, there is a need to use no-trans, no-hydro shortenings that are also low in saturated fats because you need some solid fat for functionality,” said Jeffrey Fine, director of new products and technology, AAK, Port Newark, NJ.


While trans fats — or rather, their elimination — has been the No. 1 issue, two additional criteria have emerged and are commonly described as “no hydro” and “low sat.” Stated another way, shortenings must be selected that do not require the words “hydrogenated” or even “partially hydrogenated” in ingredient listings on the package. And the presence of saturated fats must be kept as low as possible.

“Until recently, most bakers have been asking for no-trans, no-hydro, but now some are requesting low-sat aspects, too,” Mr. Fine said. “These three factors — no-trans, no-hydro, low-sat — are the drivers behind shortening choices today, but the fourth big attribute is functionality. You must be sure you get the functionality needed to produce your products.”


That’s where palm oil comes in: It is one of the few vegetable oils with significant plasticity at room temperature. It carries 52% saturated fats but can be blended with other liquid oils, thus cutting overall “sat” levels while vastly improving functionality. (The other vegetable oils high in saturates are palm kernel oil at 81% and coconut oil at 91%.)

“AAK has a rather complete line of no-trans, no-hydro products in the Cisao line,” Mr. Fine said. “And we also produce the Essence line, which has all three attributes: no-trans, no-hydro, low-sat.” Essence shortenings blend liquid oils with hard stock, consisting of palm oil. They get their functionality from the palm oil, and the amount of liquid oil dials down the saturated fat level. Mr. Fine observed that this method yields bakery shortenings with as little as 20% saturated fats that are still functional in baked foods.

Stratas produces bakers margarine for laminating pastry by using the blended approach. “We blend palm with canola or soy to reduce the saturated fat level,” Mr. Lawrence said. The company is thus able to bring down the saturated fat level to approximately half that of straight palm oil.

Describing Bunge’s method of blending, Mr. Daniels said, “We are working with the new/old approach by using palm oil when the plasticity range of a shortening needs to be considered. Some fat systems require a more forgiving plastic range.”


As described above, shortening producers supplying the baking industry have learned how to tailor fats to meet such needs. Because their products differ, the baker has a wide variety of choices.

Bunge, for example, offers three approaches for balancing functionality with nutritional requirements, according to Mr. Daniels. One, the company’s RT, or reduced trans, products result from a partial hydrogenation technology that minimizes the trans and saturates levels of conventional shortenings. Two, NH, or no hydrogenation, options use palm oil components and/or enzymatic interesterification, and three, it offers “next generation” products based on low-linolenic soybean oil and high-oleic canola oil.

“Depending on the usage and application, all three approaches help the baker with health-and-wellness challenges,” Mr. Daniels said. “Specifically, the RT approach allows a reduction in the sum of trans and saturates by greater than 25%, compared with conventional shortenings. The NH approach yields virtually trans-fat free shortenings and oils. The next generation oils approach will offer trans-fat free solutions with either good sources of monounsaturates or polyunsaturates.”


It’s the bakery application that makes the difference. The switchover for bread and like products that were already being made with liquid oils was relatively simple: Bakers replaced partially hydrogenated liquid oils with no-hydro styles and upped slightly on emulsifiers. But finding no-trans, no-hydro shortenings for laminated pastries and cookie filling fats, to name just two applications, was difficult. One supplier described early one-for-one replacement approaches as “a nightmare.”

“The easy applications were picked off early on,” Mr. Lawrence observed. “There are not ‘drop in’ replacements for traditional shortenings for some bakery applications. Such uses where the plasticity and consistency of the fat are important require considerable adaptation.”

Stratas’ Buckeye Z margarine blends soy and palm to create a zero-trans, non-hydro margarine with 28% saturated fat. “It was designed specifically for Danish and other yeast-raised products and provides the required crumb softness and extended shelf life,” Mr. Lawrence said. A similar Stratas shortening developed for cookie applications blends canola and palm.

The AAK shortenings described by Mr. Fine include cookie and bakery filling fats that are also successfully used for donuts because of their good stability. A no-trans, no-hydro fat for laminated products is available as well.

Bakery formulators must consider the specificity of use for such shortenings. Suppliers take the attitude, voiced by Mr. Daniels: “We want to minimize disruption to what customers are already doing. We can’t be of service if dramatic changes are necessary.”

There is a good case for customization of such shortenings. Buying an off-the-shelf product may be the only option for some bakers, but large bakers should consider customized products, advised Mr. Lawrence. “If the vendor can customize the shortening, then it will be easier for the baker to meet his specific needs,” he said.


Shortenings developed to be no-trans, no-hydro and low-sat can challenge the storage and handling methods at bakeries, as well as the distribution systems of suppliers.

“The first thing we learned, when we removed fully hydrogenated fats, was you must be careful with shipping and storage conditions,” Mr. Lawrence said.

Traditional hydrogenated fats had considerable tolerance in storage and handling conditions, he explained. With zero-trans, non-hydro products, the temperature range narrows considerably.

“Some process variations such as mixing time also can change,” Mr. Lawrence added. “Some palm oil blends actually have improved creaming properties over hydrogenated shortenings, so mixing times may need adjusting.”

The addition of hard fats raises the solids levels of notrans, no-hydro, low-sat shortenings. “Higher solids at room temperatures contribute to the ability of the dough system to withstand plant temperature stress during formulation, blending, sheeting and baking,” Mr. Daniels said. “This higher degree of solids must be minimized at consumer consumption temperatures to ensure that the finished product does not impart a waxy mouthfeel.”


With so many shortenings suitable for health-and-wellness products now on the market, choosing the best one for the application requires good communications between formulator, baker and supplier. Mr. Lawrence posed questions to start the dialog: “What is the application?” he asked. “Must trans fats be eliminated? Is the word ‘hydrogenated’ on the label an issue? Are the sources of oils limited by customer/ consumer expectations? What are the goals? What are the limiting factors?

“As an ingredient supplier, we need to understand the customer’s application, his process and the labeling requirements, as well as the nutritional profile desired,” he continued. “Good communications up front are important when developing a customized product.”

More than many bakery ingredients, shortening tends to present a moving target. The shift from animal to vegetable sources, the adoption and abandonment of hydrogenation, the choice of highly technical omega-3 oils — Mr. Fine summarized conditions well by noting, “The situation in shortenings continues to evolve.”

“We evaluate our shortenings all the time,” Mr. Lawrence observed. “Tweaking and reformulation efforts depend on the bakers and their needs.”

Comment on this Article
We welcome your thoughtful comments. Please comply with our Community rules.

The views expressed in the comments section of Baking Business News do not reflect those of Baking Business News or its parent company, Sosland Publishing Co., Kansas City, Mo. Concern regarding a specific comment may be registered with the Editor by clicking the Report Abuse link.