Americans love their baked treats and fried foods, yet these shortening-rich items nearly always came with hefty levels of saturated fats and/or trans fats. A consequence of this “affair of the heart” may be elevated serum cholesterol levels, yet consumers still do not wish to reduce their intake of these popular foods.

So why not make such foods healthier by formulating them with healthier fats? That idea prompted Bunge Oils, Bradley, IL, to develop PhytoBake, an all-purpose baking and frying shortening. The functional shortening, formulated with phytosterols, replaces traditional shortenings 1:1 and results in up to 46% reduction of saturated fats and trans fats in traditional indulgent bakery snack foods such as cookies, pie crusts and cakes.

OUT WITH THE BAD. Phytosterols are a special form of lipids found in plants. Research proves that, when consumed in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, plant sterol/stanol esters reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). They lower bad cholesterol in the body. This activity earned them their own health claim, first authorized in September 2000 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (The term “phytosterols,” as defined by FDA, collectively refers to plant sterols and their hydrogenated stanol forms, whether used in the free sterol form or esterified with fatty acids.)

“Phytosterol-enhanced foods would seem to have pretty good marketplace traction in select product channels,” observed Roger Daniels, Bunge Oils’ director of R&D and new business development.

Still, intake of these plant materials lags. They were initially introduced as a component of margarine, salad dressings and table spreads. Affirmed as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), phytosterols now appear poised to enter a wider array of applications, thanks to their use in PhytoBake shortening.

“PhytoBake provides options for product developers to work with phytosterols in a form that merges functional and nutritional attributes,” Mr. Daniels said. The shortening delivers the traditional attributes of lubrication and structure, while the phytosterol component’s structural similarity to cholesterol works to competitively inhibit take up of cholesterol in the human body during digestion.

IN WITH THE GOOD. Produced by a proprietary method, the new all-purpose shortening is virtually transfat-free and supports label declarations of 0 g trans fat per serving. PhytoBake blends phytosterol esters with canola, palm and hydrogenated soybean oils.

Mr. Daniels explained that the phytosterols are esterified on a glycerol backbone so that one or two of the other sites are occupied by saturated fatty acids. “The saturated fatty acids continue to impart traditional saturated fat functionality for bakery structure enhancement,” he said. “Specifically, the saturated fats form a matrix that stabilizes the liquid oil portion of the shortening. The phytosterols esterified to the glycerol backbone work with the saturated fatty acids to help stabilize this lattice or matrix. In addition, the phytosterol replaces a minimum of one of the saturated fatty acids, thereby reducing the saturated fatty acid content of the shortening ingredient.”

These materials help structure the shortening. The resulting plasticized shortening lubricates and provides structure in about any application suitable for all-purpose shortening.

The new shortening can be used as a straight replacement or as one of a formula’s shortening components. Should a baker wish to add phytosterols to products for their cardioprotective benefits, PhytoBake extended with traditional shortening components may be an option, Mr. Daniels said.

PhytoBake received a 2010 Food Expo Innovation Award from the Institute of Food Technologists at the group’s recent Chicago, IL, annual meeting. One of the competition’s jurors noted the shortening’s potential, saying, “Though phytosterol-enhanced foods have not been very popular with consumers, an ingredient like this expands application and may help bring the ingredient the attention it deserves.”

To qualify for use of the CHD health claim, foods must follow the labeling regulations covering the FDAapproved claim codified in 21 CFR 101.83. Bunge Oils will assist users of PhytoBake on working with food claims, according to Mr. Daniels. Bunge Oils is part of Bunge North America. Its products are described at the company’s Web site,