The removal of partially hydrogenated oils (p.h.o.s) from the food supply has been a long time coming. In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration required that trans fats be included in the Nutrition Facts Label.

“This served as the true catalyst of change from p.h.o. to trans-free options to where we are today,” said Roger Daniels, vice-president of research, development and innovation, Stratas Foods L.L.C.

The initial wave of alternatives sought to reduce trans fats and included solutions based in p.h.o.s, palm and physical blends of shortening, margarine and oils. When the F.D.A. announced it would be revoking the GRAS status of p.h.o.s, solutions had grown to include not only palm and blends but also enzymatic interesterified solutions. Today, bakers need shortening and oils that provide the same functionality of p.h.o.s without the versatile-but-banned oils.

“Ingredient suppliers met and are meeting this need with a merger of tried-and-true oils, new oils and process innovations,” Mr. Daniels said.

Replacing p.h.o.s has been an intensive process. They have wide ranges of plasticity and temperature tolerances. Bakers had a lot of room for error when working with them whereas most alternatives do not boast such flexible ranges.

When bakers started moving away from p.h.o.s, they needed solutions that would functionally work in their formulations.

“The first wave was, ‘What can I get by with?’” said Richard Galloway, consultant, Qualisoy.

Over time, those needs may have evolved to include improved processing, organoleptic properties and shelf life.

Time and research revealed a better understanding of these solid and liquid alternatives, said Tom Tiffany, senior technical sales manager, ADM Oils.

“In conjunction with this evolution, bakers have, over time, made adjustments with process temperatures, mixing times and formulation to account for the different functionality of the non-p.h.o. alternatives,” he said.

During the long lead-up to the removal of p.h.o.s, Bunge Loders Croklaan has continuously advanced its alternatives.

“We’ve done a lot to improve texture and color,” said Harold Kazier, senior research and development manager, Bunge Loders Croklaan. “We’ve also worked with processing, trying to alleviate the temperature and handling tolerances of the shortening. We’ve looked at the saturate reduction in these shortenings by taking the palm oil and blending it with other oils that are lower in saturates.”

As today’s p.h.o. alternatives offer better functionality, bakers’ vision for their ingredients have widened. While Columbus Vegetable Oils has developed many new products from palm oil, interesterified oils, blending and animal fats, the company also has taken into consideration demands outside the realm of function.

“These products have further evolved to include other industry concerns and requirements such as to ensure that shortenings are responsibly sourced and sustainable, domestically sourced, non-G.M.O., certified organic, kosher, halal, lower saturated fats or many others,” said Rick Cummisford, director of quality, Columbus Vegetable Oils.

Clean label is one trend that has rounded out the conversation. In addition to seeking a shortening that delivers function and finished product quality, some bakers want it to be label-friendly. As a part of its Regal line, Cargill’s non-hydrogenated icing shortening checks those boxes with a bright white color achieved without any added whiteners.

With all PHO related readingeyes on trans fats, the nutritional impact of these alternative shortenings could come under scrutiny, too.

“When you can’t get solid fat from trans fat anymore, you’re going to need more saturated fat in the product,” Mr. Kazier explained.

Bakers concerned with the nutrition label may be surprised that the saturate fat level may go up.

“There is a misunderstanding that one could just remove the trans fat and the nutritionals would remain the same with respect to the saturate level,” he said. “Trans fat was a very functional component to the shortening for structure, melting properties and functionality. When you take out the trans fat, you have to replace it with something.”

Reducing that level of saturated fat but maintaining plasticity is often an exercise in blending functional solid fats and less saturated liquid oils.

Bunge Loders Croklaan’s saturate-sparing shortening has not only no trans fat but also up to 50% less saturated fat than traditional palm oil shortenings, said Mark Stavro, senior director of marketing. Its PhytoBake shortening also offers less saturated fat by replacing it with phytosterols. This allows the shortening to deliver the functional benefits of shortening with reduced saturated fat.

Today’s p.h.o. alternatives have branched out to include high-oleic oils and canola, sunflower and other crop bases.

“In recent years, we have seen improved functionality in p.h.o. alternatives, such as cleaner aromas and flavors in frying fats, longer shelf life with high-oleic soy oils compared to standard soybean oils, and wider plasticity ranges required for cake icings and laminated doughs,” said Ben Brue, director of dry ingredients at Dawn Foods.

With so many options, bakers can work with suppliers to customize the fat for their products.