CHICAGO — For years, emulsifiers were viewed as “part of the solution,” when it comes to eliminating partially hydrogenated oils in baked foods. Suppliers promoted emulsifiers as an important tool in maintaining baking quality in connection with reducing or eliminating phos in shortening systems.

With the revocation of the GRAS status for phos set for June 2018, emulsifiers now are viewed as “part of the problem.” Most emulsifiers on the market themselves are derived from phos, said Jim Robertson, global products manager, emulsifiers, Corbion Caravan, Lenexa, Kas.

Jim Robertson, global products manager, emulsifiers, Corbion Caravan.

Mr. Robertson spoke with Milling & Baking News about emulsifiers in an interview July 13 at the IFT Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Chicago. Among the products Corbion introduced at the show was its new Ensemble line of pho-free emulsifiers.

While many users of partially hydrogenated oils began exploring alternatives before January 2006 when labeling of trans fat was mandated at levels of 0.5 grams per serving and above, no such move occurred for emulsifiers. That’s because emulsifiers are used in small enough quantities that the 0.5 gram threshold was never approached.

With the revocation of the GRAS status, the use of phos in emulsifiers after June 2018 will no longer be allowed.

“Now they would be considered a food adulterant,” Mr. Robertson said.

To understand the value of replacement alternatives, it is important to understand why phos were used for producing emulsifiers to begin with, he said.

“Emulsifiers provide functionality, machinability and tolerance by working with starch,” he said. “They provide softness in the first days after the bake. Emulsifiers bring a lot of benefits.”

Over the past year, considerable attention has been devoted to exploring ways in which emulsifiers may be used to help bakers completely eliminate phos from bakery shortening. For example, mono- and di-glycerides in bread provide the texture commonly associated with partially hydrogenated oils without the presence of trans fat. For cake or icing, emulsifiers added to a shortening system aid in the aeration and emulsion stability.

With the final rule issued revoking the GRAS status of phos, attention increasingly is moving to eliminating the modest amounts of phos in emulsifiers themselves.

“Historically, phos were used to make emulsifiers because they were cost effective, functional, stable and provided a long shelf life,” Mr. Robertson said. “We used them for decades.”

When the Food and Drug Administration first proposed the GRAS revocation in November 2013, Corbion began working on alternatives, Mr. Robertson said. At I.F.T., the company unveiled the Ensemble line of non-pho emulsifiers.

Among the benefits of Ensemble emulsifiers he highlighted, Mr. Robertson put particular emphasis on the product’s “drop-on” functionality. For instance, he cited its powder properties, which make it easy to dispense and disperse while maintaining flavor, texture, quality, ease of handling and shelf stability.

“With all the challenges the industry faces with the phos, which is expected to cost the food industry as much as $7 billion, the idea with Ensemble was to make it as easy as possible,” Mr. Robertson said. “Other pho-free emulsifiers will require retooling, and we view this as an issue of opportunity cost. As a baker, do I want to focus on new product development or reformulating to accommodate a new emulsifier?”

At I.F.T., Corbion showcased within its Ensemble line of emulsifiers Starplex for bread; BFP 550 for baked foods such as muffins, cakes and pies; and Alphadim 579 for applications such as ice cream and whipped toppings.