The Food and Drug Administration’s announcement three years ago to revoke the GRAS status of partially hydrogenated oils (p.h.o.s) kicked the development of replacements into high gear. P.h.o.s, with their flexible melting points and stability, offered a wide range of functionality with little negative impact on taste and texture. That has been difficult to replace.

“While many p.h.o. alternatives have proven to be effective, they have not come without recognizable challenges,” said Jim Robertson, director, emulsifier portfolio, Corbion. Palm presents challenges in flavor and color reversion, crystallization as well as sustainability concerns. Polyunsaturated oils have an effect on oxidative stability, color and flavor. Fully saturated oils lack functional properties that make them cold-water dispersible without unsaturated fat components.

“When replacing the p.h.o.s, the alternatives have to function the same in the products — the same texture, taste and shelf life — so a lot of improvements are made on an ongoing basis,” said Harold Kazier, senior research and development manager, Bunge Loders Croklaan.

The lesson of customization

Probably the most valuable lesson learned in the replacement of p.h.o.s is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

“No single substitute for p.h.o.s can work in every application, and that shouldn’t be a surprise because there was never one p.h.o.,” said Richard Galloway, Qualisoy oils expert.

P.h.o.s covered a spectrum of products, from the solid shortenings to pourable frying oils.

Because fats and oils have a wide range of uses — and p.h.o.s offer stability and functionality — there are now plenty of alternatives that formulators can tweak to meet exact needs. Whether it’s functionality in the formulation, processing conditions or adjacent concerns such as sourcing and sustainability, bakers have a wealth of options to choose from.

“Every application is a bit different, and some are a bit trickier than others,” Mr. Kazier said, citing laminating fats for puff pastry as one. “The shortening has to be machineable, it has to be fairly temperature tolerant, and it has to handle, and those are the most challenging because p.h.o.s seem to be more tolerant than the alternatives.”

Bunge Loders Croklaan worked on a shortening for these tricky applications, and it had to meet those high standards. It had to deliver the height and flakiness in a puff pastry while also being plastic enough to be extruded and have a good temperature tolerance.

“It has all of those characteristics that p.h.o. fat had,” he said.

Today, bakers can choose shortenings and other fats created from a variety of base oils, including canola, coconut, palm, soybean and sunflower. These oils, and their high-oleic counterparts, can be blended together and interesterified to create a custom solution for any application. It’s simply a matter of working with a shortening supplier and communicating needs effectively.

“This is where our co-development approach comes into play,” said Chris Bohm, customer innovation manager, bakery, AAK USA. With multi-oil capabilities, that adds palm kernel, safflower, and non-G.M.O. soy oils to the previous list, AAK can make shortenings from different components to customize a solution. These components may be fractions or interesterified blends.

Columbus Vegetable Oils also offers hundreds of fats and oils that may be custom blended to meet bakers’ goals.

“Many of these projects involve not just replacing the now-discontinued p.h.o. shortenings but also improving on the quality, performance and stability of finished products as well as the numerous soft aspects of the product such as sustainability, ethical sourcing, non-GMO, etc.,” said Rick Cummisford, director of quality, Columbus Vegetable Oils.

The company has improved texture or provided a longer shelf-life by adjusting the oils in the shortening products it offers.

To find the right shortening replacement, Cargill helps bakers consider the entire ecosystem of the shortening product, including supply chain, procurement practices and finished product qualities like shelf life and eating experience.

“That allows us to give our customers holistic solutions,” said John Satumba, U.S. and Mexico R.&D./technical services, Cargill. “We are now helping some early adopters who maybe didn’t consider the entire ecosystem of their products, and we are now helping those customers reformulate.”

To get ahead of the curve, Corbion started developing and testing non-p.h.o. solutions well before the F.D.A. mandated their removal. The company launched its Ensemble emulsifier line at the same time as the announcement and its SweetPro line of emulsifiers soon after.

“These two unique emulsifier lines are specially designed to allow bakery manufacturers to remove p.h.o.s while ensuring the quality, taste, texture and consistency of their products,” Mr. Robertson said. “With similar handling properties and the same functionality as p.h.o.s, our non-p.h.o. emulsifier solutions allow bakers to select the non-p.h.o. fats or oils that work best for their applications.”

High-performance crops and fats

High-oleic oils provide an effective domestic alternative to commodity oils and tropical oils in the p.h.o. alternative game. These oils — high-oleic soy, canola and sunflower — are derived from crops that have been bred for more stability. They are high in monosaturates — aka the “good” fats — and their stability makes them easier to use.

“Since the late 2000s, high-oleic canola and high-oleic soybean oils have been commercialized to meet the demands for applications that demand a highly oxidatively stable oil,” said Tom Tiffany, senior technical sales manager, ADM Oils.. “These trait-enhanced oils can be used alone, in blends with palm oil or as the liquid oil component of interesterified shortenings and hard stocks.”

ADM developed a second generation high-oleic soy-based solid shortening that offers improved functional and oxidative attributes to its earlier soybean oil-based p.h.o. alternatives.

Stratas Foods’ Sweetex Golden Flex cake and icing shortenings use high-oleic soybean oil to create a shortening that cremes faster and takes on water in the mixing bowl faster. It also is plastic at room temperature without drastic responses to major temperature swings.

“If this gets cold, it gets firm but not brittle,” said Mitch Riavez, certified master baker and bakery sales manager, Stratas Foods, at Qualisoy’s Joy of Soy Tour, in Savannah, Ga. “If it gets warm, it’s not soup.”

Bunge Loders Croklaan’s high-oleic options, including soybean and non-G.M.O. sunflower oils, offer shelf stability that is similar to p.h.o.s. Its high-performance shortenings made with high-oleic soybean oil give more challenging applications such as donuts and icings improved stability and functionality.

Currently high-oleic oils and shortenings derived from them can be pricier than other alternatives. Supply of these crops just isn’t as pervasive as commodity crops. However, that is changing and may have a long-term effect on price.

Mixed to perfection

By blending different kinds of oils and hard fractions, formulators can create shortenings that meet bakers’ needs. This technique allows suppliers to work around the limitations of fats and oils to create something that delivers the stability and functionality of p.h.o.s.

Solids are the key for functionality.

“In the past, mostly tropical or fully hydrogenated fats were used in the quest to build solids,” Mr. Bohm said.

Today, he continued, formulators are turning to liquid oils with lower saturate content combined with trans-free solids to achieve the plasticity bakers need.

“By taking a specific hard stock and adding a liquid oil component to it at different ratios, and also considering the different fractions that we can get from palm to affect the solid content, we can develop a very strong, unique laminated fat that mirrors its trans fat-containing counterpart,” he explained.

The key to this technique is getting the ratio of solids and liquids just right. Too much solid fat will result in a higher melt point. This creates a finished product with a residual or waxy mouthfeel. Too much liquid oil and the mouthfeel will be slick. Bakers also might see issues with air retention for leavening, cell structure and density reduction, which would be a problem for cake volume and icing functionality, Mr. Bohm explained.

AAK’s Cisao line of shortenings are palm-based and not hydrogenated. They are available for specific applications such as icings as well as all-purpose for a variety of applications.

Continued research and improvement of fat sources — exotic and domestic, plant and animal — are leading to more exacting shortening and oil solutions for the baking industry. Today’s p.h.o. alternatives are just one chapter in the continuing story of fats and oils.