Switching bakery and snack foods out of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) will require replacing the functional benefits of these long-used ingredients. Gerald McNeill, PhD, vice-president, R&D and marketing, IOI Loders Croklaan Americas, Channahon, IL, explains such applications and options for improving their bakery performance in this exclusive Baking & Snack Q&A.

Baking & Snack: As the new generation of trait-enhanced oils moved into commercial use, how well have they been accepted by bakery and snack users?
Gerald McNeill, PhD: The main purpose for introducing trait-enhanced oils to the North American market was a response to a public backlash against partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) and trans fat.

Traditional soybean oil and, to a lesser extent canola oil, are relatively high in polyunsaturated fat and, therefore, tend to oxidize quickly. When used in heavy duty frying applications, degradation of the oil, resulting in polymer build up and off flavors, limits their utility. These oils often needed some partial hydrogenation to prevent degradation.

In recent years, partial hydrogenation and the trans fat it creates were found to be a significant contributor to heart disease, resulting in a consumer desire to eliminate trans fat from the diet. Seed companies then embarked on a program to greatly reduce the polyunsaturated fat content in the oils and convert it into monounsaturated fat — a fatty acid that is about seven times more stable than polyunsaturates.

What are the pros, and cons, that your customers report?
Vegetable oils that have a greatly reduced content of polyunsaturated oil and a high content of monounsaturated fat have a significantly increased stability in frying applications compared with non-hydrogenated oils and are comparable in stability with natural fats like palm oil and butter. Compared with traditional soy and canola oils, the new oils can be reused more frequently with little damage to the finished product and are comparable to natural fats like palm oil.

One drawback to using liquid oils like high-oleic and traditional canola and soybean is their poor performance in most baking and snack foods applications. These applications require a fat with a semi-solid texture that can stabilize air cells to generate a light and crumbly texture in the finished product. Oils cannot provide this texture and undesirable oil will leak out of the product, considered to be a defect. Because both the traditional and trait enhanced oils are all liquid, they will not contribute on their own to the functionality of most of these products.

Efforts to use trait enhancement to increase saturated fat content in these oils has repeatedly failed because the saturated fat crystals that form under temperate growing conditions greatly reduce productivity of the seeds and beans.
What’s next to come down the pipeline in soy, canola, sunflower and palm?
Global demand for all foods is increasing throughout the world due to population increase as well as the increasing middle class in countries such as China and India. Fats and oils demand is continually rising, and the only way to supply this need is an increase of palm oil production. Palm oil trees optimally grow within 10 degrees of the equator and produce about 10 times more oil per acre than soybean oil, or five times more oil than canola. With the introduction of higher yielding varieties of trees and more sustainable farming practices, a doubling of oil output is likely within the next 30 years.
What do bakers need to know about fatty acid profiles of these oils to help them optimize their ingredient choices?
Fats and oils with a low content of polyunsaturated fatty acids provide valuable frying stability and longer shelf life than traditional temperate oil varieties. Currently, many in the industry believe that their low content of saturated fat provides a relatively healthy choice for frying.

However, the nutrition landscape is continuously is shifting. Almost all of the recent large studies in the field have found no connection between saturated fat consumption and risk of heart disease. In addition, many nutrition researchers are calling on consumers to increase intake of polyunsaturated fat to reduce heart and other diseases. At the same time, traditional oils are rapidly losing most of their polyunsaturates in favor of monounsaturated fat, which so far does not seem to possess the same health desirable benefits as the polys.

Palm oil is relatively high in saturated fat (50%), but again most of the evidence from large studies shows no negative effect of saturated fat on heart disease. In fact, it is similar to monounsaturated fat, the remainder of palm oil fatty acids.

Palm oil is not just simply a single oil or fat. It is a natural blend of dozens of different fats and oils, comprised of a large of range of individual triglycerides — the building blocks of fats and oils. The many components that make up natural palm oil can be separated from each other using a non-chemical process called fractionation. This involves slowly cooling the melted oil and filtering off the crystals that form. This results in two new oils with different physical properties that can be used for different applications. The new oils can each be fractionated and so on until about 10 unique fractions have been produced. If desired, the fractions can be blended with liquid oils such as the new trait-enhanced soy and canola oils. In this way, almost an unlimited range of shortenings can be generated to suit the needs of bakers — elimination of PHOs is an excellent example.