Fat's functions

by Laurie Gorton
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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 all-vegetable 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.

BIG THREE, PLUS ONE. 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.”

THE CASE FOR BLENDING. 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.”

NOW AVAILABLE. 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.”

SPECIFICITY. 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.

MANAGING MATERIALS. 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 no-trans, 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.”

COMMUNICATIONS POLICY. 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.”

Real World Omega-3s  

In mid-February, Sara Lee North American Fresh Bakery Products put into national distribution its Soft & Smooth Plus Bread containing life’sDHA brand omega-3 fatty acids from Martek Biosciences, Columbia, MD. The 100% whole-wheat bread contains long-chain, omega-3 fatty acids in the form of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) derived from microalgae, a vegetarian source.

When it comes to health-and-wellness formulating, omega-3 fatty acids offer many benefits. DHA, for example, serves as a primary building block for the brain and eyes, supporting brain, eye and cardiovascular health throughout life, according to Joe Burton, vice-president of sales and marketing for Martek.

“Omega-3 fatty acids as ingredients have been used for hundreds of years, before we ever knew what it was,” said Ron Wheelwright, senior account manager, functional foods, Denomega Nutritional Oils, Boulder, CO, citing Scandinavian dietary habits. “Cognitive health, anti-inflammatory effects — the health benefits are widely varied. The omega-3 fatty acids are supported by more than 8,000 scientific studies. Their science is very deep.”

The bread application demonstrates one of two schools of thought about using omega-3s, Mr. Wheelwright explained. “One is that moderate doses of omega-3 fats should be in everyday foods such as toast and sandwiches. The second is that products like muffins can provide higher doses.”

A single muffin can carry as much as 500 mg of DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). “There’s a cookie already on the market in Canada, and certainly nutrition bars are an excellent fit,” he observed.

Denomega offers a number of omega-3 products suitable for bakery applications. Omega-360 Pure 22, for example, fits uses where a high dose is desired. It provides both DHA and EPA. While many products are made with 16 to 32 mg omega-3 per serving, this taste-and-odor-free oil has been incorporated into baked foods at levels as high as 500 mg omega-3 per serving. The high omega-3 content of the oil makes it the lowest cost-in-use form of omega-3, according to Mr. Wheelwright.

The company also produces a blend, Omega 360 PureMix, of marine omega-3 oil and canola oil, specifically designed for use in bakeries. It can stand at room temperature for an extended period of time. If a powder is preferred, Omega Classic Dry ST microencapsulates the oil. While this technique lowers the active content of omega-3, this style is a good option for many baked food applications.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is another omega-3 of interest in bakery applications. Mother Nature made flaxseed not only high in oil at 48% of the total seed but also high in ALA at 55% of the oil in the seed. “Flaxseed can be used to give health-and-wellness benefits,” said Marilyn Stieve, business development manager, flaxseed, Glanbia Nutritionals, Monroe, WI. “And because it is so high in oil, bakers can reduce some of the total fat in the system.”

Working with flaxseed, Glanbia researchers report that it fits well in bakery applications including breads, tortillas, cakes, cookies and more because it has a grain-like consistency. Ms. Stieve pointed out its hydrocolloid properties that make the food moister to eat. “But the big driver of applications for flaxseed is its omega-3 content,” she said.

In the US, Food and Drug Administration regulations permit packaging claims of “good” source of omega-3 ALA claims when flaxseed is present at 0.65 g per serving, and “excellent” source claims are allowed when 1.3 g of flaxseed are available per serving.

Mr. Wheelwright described storage needs for omega-3 oils, which oxidize more rapidly than other oils. Denomega warehouses its oils frozen. “They should be allowed to thaw in a refrigerator prior to use,” he said. “Once thawed, they can be treated as typical oils used in baked goods. In fact, if other oils are used, they can be blended together before being added.”

Re-casting Saturated Fat’s Image

The widely accepted theory that saturated fats are detrimental to heart health is being challenged through new analytical work by doctors and nutritionists.

In January, a multi-disciplinary panel of nutrition and clinical experts reported their review of the replacement of trans fats. In a consensus statement, the panelists concluded that, when possible, trans fats should be replaced with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats; however, when saturated fat is needed for functional reasons, it can be expected that overall cardiovascular disease risk is lessened, compared with trans fats.

“The panel realized the complexity of giving clear guidance to the baking industry, so they would know how to reconcile the challenges of replacing trans fats,” said K.C. Hayes, DVM, PhD, a professor of biology (nutrition) at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA.

“Science that previously only considered how fatty acids impacted low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is now aware that saturated fats can play a role in a balanced diet, and that all fats have varying effects on LDL, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, triglycerides, inflammatory markers and blood sugars.”

This statement is independently supported by a meta-analysis of 21 studies from around the world, which reported that dietary intake of saturated fats are not linked to cardiovascular disease. The analysis, published online in mid-February by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found “insufficient evidence from prospective epidemiological studies to conclude that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease,” according to the researchers, led by Ronald Krauss, MD, Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute in California.

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