Since putting partially hydrogenated shortenings — and the trans fats they contain — in the rear-view mirror, bakery formulators must take new routes to find the shortening performance they require. The past few years have seen progress in new low-saturate fats and oils.

As well, a new appreciation has emerged for the functional benefits of palm oil and its fractions. All of this accelerates the pace of change in a category that seems to be warping ahead into another dimension.

One thing’s for sure: Performance is key. “Bakeries are unique in that they have very specific and highly specialized ingredient and manufacturing requirements to produce their products,” said Don Banks, president, Edible Oil Technology, Dallas, TX, a consultant to the United Soybean Board.

Consider, too, demands for a healthier diet. “The matter of public health continues to be significant,” said Willie Loh, PhD, vice-president, marketing, Cargill Oils and Shortenings, Wayzata, MN. “Shortening suppliers must help bakery customers position their products as healthy and wholesome.”

Concern voiced by the medical community about heart health risks from trans fatty acids, a byproduct of hydrogenation, launched the exploration of new bakery shortenings. Federal regulations for mandatory labeling of trans fat content on food packages pushed efforts along, as did the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that recommended eating fewer solid fats.

“Many national food companies transitioned their shortening to meet the needs of no-trans-fat products,” said David Hughes, senior project manager, technical services, Ventura Foods, Brea, CA. “The primary benefit of the new generation of shortenings and margarines is to meet the nutritional needs of the marketplace, which are twofold: the obvious elimination of trans fat content and the more recent need to reduce saturated fats.”

Structure, lubricity, stability

Liquid oils work nicely in bread and sponge cakes and perform well as frying and spray oils. “But you can’t make a nice icing or croissant with a liquid oil,” said Dilip Nakhasi, director of innovation, Bunge Oils, Bradley, IL. His list could include Danish, pound cakes and cookies as well.

Basically, a bakery shortening consists of low-melting-point liquid oils and higher-melting-point solid fats. The solid fats (triacylglycerols, better known as triglycerides) form a crystalline matrix that holds the liquid oils within it, giving the characteristic creamy texture. In baked foods, shortenings impart softness to the crumb structure, provide lubricity to doughs, aid in aeration, stabilize batters and creams by emulsification, improve overall palatability of finished products and extend keeping quality.

Unlike frying oils commonly derived from a single type of oilseed and reflecting that source’s characteristics, shortenings are compound products that can contain many types of fats or processed fat components and thus do not reflect a single type of fat, Mr. Banks observed. “In selecting components, formulators first consider functionality and factor in a balance of economic and quality considerations,” he said.

Having your cake …

“It’s important to remember that fat is needed in the diet to support the body’s functions,” said Lynne Morehart, technical service manager, Cargill,

Sidney, OH.

But health needs raise the bar for bakery shortenings. “Swapping partially hydrogenated oils with trans-fat-free and lower-saturated-fat products allows healthier baked foods so consumers can have their cake and eat it, too, so to speak,” said Cory McArthur, vice-president of market development, Canola Council of Canada, Winnipeg, MT. 

Such interests led Stratas Foods to its “Functional Nutrition” approach encompassing bakery manufacturing needs and healthy formulating priorities. Roger Daniels, vice-

president, R&D and innovation, Stratas Foods, Memphis, TN, explained, “Today’s bakery shortenings are required to contribute the desired attributes to finished products while maximizing levels of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids and minimizing saturated fatty acids.”

Consumers hold conflicting desires for great taste and healthy ingredients. “When consumers buy a baked food, they are looking for a decadent treat,” said Donald Appleby, marketing manager, P&G Food Ingredients, Cincinnati, OH. “But they know that great taste comes with a price that can lead, over the long run, to weight gain and other health problems.” Such awareness is beginning to change consumer behavior, he said, making it important that bakers offer low-calorie baked foods that taste just as delicious as their full-fat counterparts.

… and baking it, too

To drive out trans fats, reduce saturates and take hydrogenation off the label, oil processors altered the composition of bakery shortenings. “But doing so affects functionality,” Mr. Nakhasi said. “We have to provide the right characteristics. For example, when making croissants, a change in solid fat is reflected immediately in the function of the product.”

Ask a baker about shortening quality in this post-hydrogenation era, and you’ll hear about consistency of results. “The most valuable aspects to our bakery customers are the same ease of use, the same high-quality product and a cleaner nutritional label for their customers,” said Jessica Blackford, research scientist, AAK, Edison, NJ.

While new vegetable oils focus on nutritional angles, the realities of bakery production require uniform performance and finished quality. To get those results, bakers need shortenings with solid fats or, at least, the functional equivalent of solid fats. “Hydrogenation, interesterification and fractionation have successfully addressed the physical properties of the fat blend, namely solid fat content and melting point,” said John Neddersen, senior application scientist, fats and oils, emulsifiers, DuPont Nutrition and Health, New Century, KS. “However, other properties need to be addressed such as the impact on production and the finished bakery product.”

For example, shortenings made with enzymatic interesterified soy oil as their hard fat component instead of partially hydrogenated oils can be drop-in replacements. Tom Tiffany, senior technical manager, ADM, Decatur, IL, cited flour tortillas and some cookie applications. “Some storage, handling and processes need to be modified to compensate for functional differences [in the new shortenings], although it really depends on the application,” he added.

The technical stuff

Bakery shortenings have long chased the performance standards set by butter, lard and beef tallow. “The identity

of baked foods was defined by these semisolid fats, and consumers expect the same structure, texture and taste today,” said Gerald McNeill, PhD, vice-president, R&D, IOI Loders Croklaan Americas, Channahon, IL. “The majority of baking applications require a semisolid fat to impart the typical structure and texture that characterizes baked foods.”

For a number of shortening producers, palm oil provides the answer. Palm is naturally semisolid on its own, and as Dr. McNeill explained, “It forms small, stable crystals that give a smooth texture and have the ability to stabilize small air bubbles during the baking process. Entrapment of air is essential in the creaming process, giving the finished product a light texture that is not dense or hard.”

Additionally, palm can be fractionated, separated into components. “Each fraction differs with respect to hardness, melting point, texture and functionality,” Dr. McNeill said. Recombining various fractions yields fats with different functional properties. “Blending liquid vegetable oils with the palm fractions further extends the range, and almost any partially hydrogenated oil can be matched,” he explained.

For others, enzymatic interesterification solves the puzzle. Michelle Peitz, ADM technical sales representative, explained that this method yields plastic fats that qualify to be labeled as “0 g trans fat per serving” under federal labeling standards. “The enzymatically interesterified shortenings also tend to contain a lower overall total saturate content than that of the whole palm-based products,” she said.

Interesterified shortenings are structured fats, Ms. Morehart noted. “They work just as well as palm or hydrogenated oils but don’t require the use of ‘hydrogenated’ on the label,” she said. “The functionality is there, the flavor is there, and the nutrition is there.”

New kids on the block

Many shortening suppliers have begun to use new-generation oils with low-linolenic and high-oleic traits.

DuPont Pioneer’s Plenish high-oleic soy and Monsanto’s Vistive Gold high-oleic soy are entering commercial availability. Qualisoy, a soybean industry research initiative of the United Soybean Board, supported both, noted Richard Galloway, president, Galloway and Associates, LLC, Isle of Pines, SC, consultant to the board.

Development of high-oleic, low-linolenic soy oils brings to the table superior oxidative and flavor stability, according to Mr. Banks. Breeders cut down on the saturated fatty acids in the oils by reducing the plant’s ability to make them.

These oils have immediate applications as spray oils, but bakery shortenings will be an important use, according to Rick Wilkes, food applications director, Monsanto, St. Louis, MO. “Depending on the product, Monsanto’s Vistive Gold low-saturate, high-oleic soybean oil can replace some of the structuring fat including palm, cottonseed and interesterified oils to provide needed functionality and reduce the amount of saturated fat,” he said.

Food industry formulators are taking notice, with ADM, Bunge and Stratas introducing products using DuPont Pioneer’s Plenish high-oleic, low-linolenic soybean oil, according to Susan Knowlton, senior research manager for DuPont Pioneer, Wilmington, DE. “We have a number of baking companies interested, with several requesting samples,” she said. “It is designed to function as a liquid frying oil, a spray oil and as a base stock for bakery shortenings.”

Dow AgroSciences developed Omega-9 Oils from its high-oleic Nexera canola and sunflower seed. Both come from traditional plant breeding (non GMO), as does the National Sunflower Association’s new Nutrisun sunflower seed oil.

“We continue to advance the Omega-9 Oils,” said David Dzisiak, global commercial leader, grains and oils, Dow AgroSciences, Indianapolis, IN. “Shortening processors have many building blocks for designing end-use products. We’ve done the formulation and votation work that will help customers incorporate our oils into bakery shortenings.” He said that a new high-oleic, low saturate sunflower oil, set for field trials next year, will have greater than 90% oleic content, “the first to qualify for a zero-saturates claim.”

In July, the US Department of Agriculture approved regular production of Monsanto’s MON 87769 soybeans that produce stearidonic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that readily metabolizes to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Dow reports promising efforts to develop a plant source for the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

As part of its efforts to incorporate different fatty acids into plant oils, Dow is working to get DHA into its Omega-9 Oils line. “With plant-made DHA, you’ll get a better flavor profile than with current marine or algal sources,” Mr. Dzisiak said. “It will be more stable because of the high-oleic background.”

Interest in stable omega-3s is picking up traction, noted Dr. Loh. “Shortenings with omega-3 fatty acids can go a long way to deliver a front-of-package health claim, depending on other ingredients used,” he said.

Saturates examined

Good reasons exist to replace saturated fats in product formulations, but equally good arguments support their continued use.

Of the saturated fatty acids, palmitic is the most widely distributed in nature. Practically all known natural fats contain it. Stearic acid is another common saturate. Palm oil, compared with other vegetable oils, is the nearest to a natural semisolid fat. It is widely used throughout the world, including Europe.

“Many bakeries are concerned about nutrition,” Dr. McNeill said, “and saturated fat reduction is often a target. But saturated fat is not as bad as once believed, and recent science consistently shows that saturated fat neither increases or decreases risk of heart disease.”

Palm oil balances its fatty acids, with 50% saturated (primarily palmitic), 40% monounsaturated (mainly oleic) and 10% polyunsaturated (linoleic) fatty acids. Palmitic acid does not raise blood cholesterol levels in humans, and linoleic is an essential fatty acid, which humans must get from their foods.

Palm’s structuring characteristics make it a good choice for blending with other liquid oils to create plastic shortenings. “The palm fractions effectively soak up the liquid oils and still provide the desired functionality. In some applications, shortenings with as low as 23% saturated fat can be used,” Dr. McNeill said.

Ventura also takes advantage of palm fractionation, reblending the fractions to answer the need for properly functioning shortenings. “This advanced blending is coupled with tightly controlled swept-surface crystallization to ensure superior uniform shortenings and margarines,” Mr. Hughes said.

Near-term outlook

The retreat from trans has forever altered formulation and preparation of bakery shortenings. Bakers’ performance expectations, however, have not changed. “Health and wellness drive the food industry overall, and a lot of product design passes through that filter,” Mr. Dzisiak said. “But you still have to offer products that have great taste.”

Emphasis on improved nutrition will continue, according to Mr. Wilkes, who cautioned, “This must be achieved while still being able to provide the quality consumers expect.”

Speaking from the shortening supplier’s standpoint, Ms. Blackford confirmed these expectations. “AAK’s goal is to provide the baker with trans-free, low-saturate options that are robust in texture and produce baked goods with excellent color, lift and flavor,” she said.

Bakery shortenings have an interesting future, limned by Mr. Daniels to take shape from the natural stability of their high-monounsaturate content and nutritional benefits tailored by selective breeding. “Specifically, the mid-term time horizon is one in which the use of high-oleic oils will continue to increase,” he said. “Nutritional sciences will better understand the importance and impact of saturates, and nutritionists and food scientists will identify and promote phytonutrients able to confer functional and nutritional benefits.”

When bakery formulators look at shortening options, Ms. Morehart advised them to think through their specific criteria and then experiment to the maximum. “Don’t rule anything out,” she said, “even though you think it might not work.”