Replacing PHOs in emulsifiers

by Laurie Gorton
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Lecithin offers a clean-label choice for maintaining freshness and crumb texture in innovative products.
 
Have your regulatory specialists talked to you yet about emulsifiers? These everyday bakery ingredients help bread dough stand up to machining and stabilize cakes and icings. They limit staling and improve performance. But now, legal use of several may be affected by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s decision to revoke the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs).

And you thought it was just about shortenings.

“Historically, PHOs and fully hydrogenated oils were used to create emulsifiers,” said Jim Doucet, manager of emulsifier technology, Corbion Caravan. “But the fats and oils — the sources for making emulsifiers — are changing.”

Still, bakers can expect the newest emulsifiers to continue to toe the line in expected functionality. Emulsifiers belong to a class of ingredients defined by what they do. “Other than the PHO issue, the end user, the baker, is not so concerned by what emulsifiers are made of. Instead, they buy them for their functionality and conformity with regulations,” observed Jim Robertson, global product manager, emulsifiers, Corbion Caravan.

Right now, FDA’s action gives these ingredients an important job. “The role of emulsifiers is to help bakers transition from partially hydrogenated shortenings to non-hydro,” said John Neddersen, senior application scientist, emulsifiers, DuPont Nutrition & Health.

As a sign of the times, however, a number of outside factors also figure into choices, according to Marie-Kristin von der Heide, junior marketing manager, Sternchemie. “There is continued interest in emulsifiers,” she said. “The difference today is that the scope of interest is not solely on functionality but also on sustainable and declaration-friendly solutions such as non-GMO, allergen-free and organic.”

The need to switch out of PHOs — a big change for many baked foods — may prompt formulators to seek such wide-ranging solutions when the occasion for a more routine formula alteration would not. “It gives the customer the opportunity to look at their portfolio of ingredients,” said Sheila Rice, NAFTA region product manager for emulsifiers, DuPont Nutrition & Health. “You could switch the sustainability and/or non-GMO status of formulations at the same time you remove PHOs. This is a synergistic effect of the ruling by FDA.”

Glaze for fried foods benefit from use of emulsifiers to control moisture movement.
 

Role of emulsifiers

Emulsifiers comprise a broad portfolio of materials. They include lecithin, mono- and diglycerides (distilled, acetylated and ethoxylated), diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides (DATEM), monoglycerides (lactylated and succinylated), sodium and calcium stearoyl lactylates, polyglycerol monesters, propylene glycol monoesters and monostearates, sodium stearoyl fumarate, sorbitan esters and polysorbates, and sucrose esters.

They perform important functions. “While the reason for having emulsifiers on an ingredient declaration is not always understood by consumers,” explained Ryan Smith, general manager, bakery and dairy, Kerry Americas, “the benefits that they bring are clear — allowing cost-effective commercial production of wholesome food products with good keeping qualities.”

Mono- and diglycerides are derived from triglycerides (three fatty acids attached to a glycerol backbone), the building blocks of fats and oils. Attempting to avoid trans fats by replacing conventional bakery shortenings with liquid oils, bakers found they could add emulsifiers to produce semi-solid fats. That’s when Corbion Caravan introduced a crystallizer high in diglycerides that provides structure to liquid oils. It is used by several shortening manufacturers to create zero-trans, low-saturated, all-purpose bakery shortenings.

Mr. Robertson was the lead scientist on the project and said, “With all that’s happening now with PHOs, this ingredient is all about structuring oils. Solid fats are what make shortenings so functional in baked goods, and you can replace the solid fats with it.”

The company continued its work, this time converting production of popular hydrated emulsifiers to use non-PHO bases. “Emulsifiers are foundational to us,” Mr. Robertson said. One of Corbion Caravan’s legacy companies, C.J. Patterson Co., introduced lactylates in the 1950s, and another, Breddo, developed hydrated monoglycerides in the 1960s. Both are still widely used. “They helped in the bakery manufacturing process and brought quality attributes to the finished product,” he added.

The right emulsifier will complement the shortening’s action to ensure proper layering of puff pastries.
 

Time for an oil change

FDA’s action against PHOs spurred emulsifier producers to reexamine their raw materials. “Many customers now want to move away from all hydrogenated oils, which leaves palm oil and its derivatives as the only viable base oil to use to make emulsifiers,” Mr. Smith said.

Arne Pedersen, product and application manager, Palsgaard A/S, agreed. “In the search for new sources of unsaturated fat, it doesn’t take long to realize that the road ahead for large-scale bakery production is paved with palm oil,” he said. “While fully hydrogenated soybean oil, like palm oil, doesn’t appear to have negative health consequences, and while the former is generally preferred in the US market for traditional reasons, its melting point is too high to be useful.”

There’s another drawback to fully hydrogenated oil: its name. Fully hydro oil contains no trans fats and is not part of FDA’s action on PHOs. “But there is a lot of consumer confusion about fully hydro versus no hydro,” Mr. Neddersen said. “We have customers who want no mention of ‘hydrogenated’ anything on their labels and in their products.”

Palm oil, long popular among bakers in Europe, is getting heightened attention from US bakers, shortening manufacturers … and producers of emulsifiers. “Palm oils are partially solid at room temperature and fractions of palm oil are selected that have quite high melting points needed by food processors,” said Tim Cottrell, director of business development, emulsifiers and texturants, Kerry Americas.

Other vegetable oils are getting new attention, too.

In the two years Corbion Caravan invested in getting out of PHO base stocks, its R&D staff looked at many oils. “The base materials for our new line are non-PHO oils, both highly saturated oils and high-stability oils,” Mr. Robertson said of the proprietary blend selected. “The fatty acid composition is foundational to the end product. The trick is to bring together the right attributes so we could remove PHOs but keep the functionality.”

Commodity soybean oil may be losing its appeal as a raw material, according to a number of emulsifier producers. “Next-generation emulsifiers are still made from a variety of vegetable oils, such as soy, palm, coconut, sunflower or canola,” Mr. Cottrell said. “What has changed in recent months is the move away from the variety of soy offerings that ranged from hard fully hydrogenated products through the semi-soft PHO range to liquid oils that are stabilized by ‘brush’ hydrogenation.”

Mr. Neddersen pointed out another factor that specifically affects lecithin but also may impact other emulsifiers: “Bakers concerned about allergen status have been asking for non-soy emulsifiers, which led to the development of ­sunflower and canola options.”

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