Partially hydrogenated oils (phos) are in the rear-view mirror. Innovation in shortening is no longer tethered to replacing them but now driven on to improving today’s alternatives.

“Now these new shortenings must compete on their own merit instead of as a pho replacement,” said Frank Flider, consultant, Qualisoy.

This means shortenings must have better functionality … whether they’re easier to store and use, have better consistency in the finished product or enjoy longer shelf life. With trans fats out of the picture, some bakers are turning to shortenings with lower saturated fat content.

“Shortening manufacturers are juggling a lot of balls right now looking for the right shortenings to meet the various needs of the bakers,” Mr. Flider said.

This trend eventually will lead down the road to customization. To meet specific shortening needs, suppliers are diversifying their base oils and hard stocks while using tools such as blending and interesterification to come up with the right solution.

First and foremost, a shortening must be functional. Depending upon the application, those functions may be different, but shortenings can provide structure, taste and texture. They also need to be stable and easy-to-use.

“Even with phos behind us, some of the existing challenges or key needs remain,” said John Satumba, Ph.D., North America R.&D. director, global edible oil solutions, Cargill. “Bakers still want reliable supply, consistency in the fat system, ease-of-use and high stability for long shelf life.”

Without physical and oxidative stability, shortenings can’t perform in a formulation and lose some shelf life. They have to stay solid at room temperature to remain solid in the dough until they reach the oven, where the high heat puts the shortening to work. If it melts ahead of the oven, it can’t do its job.

“The future of shortening product development may take into consideration improvement in functional attributes, which increases the working temperature range to overcome firm or soft consistencies,” said Tom Tiffany, senior technical sales manager, oils, ADM. “With the use of high-oleic oils, modification techniques such as enzymatic interesterification and optimal crystallization conditions, positive strides in shortening functionality are being developed.”

For example, blending palm oil and palm fractions with stable oils such as high-oleic soybean oil addresses palm oil’s tendency to be firm with a limited process temperature window.

“The blending of high-oleic soybean oil with palm oil reduces the amount of saturates of palm oil, thus making it less firm and widening the temperature range,” he explained. “Also, by using high-oleic soybean oil, the oxidative stability is maintained to help address shelf life concerns.”

ADM’s second generation of soybean oil-based shortenings also features a wider working temperature range as well as an improved overall consistency. To achieve these traits, ADM used enzymatic interesterification of high-oleic soybean oil with fully hydrogenated soybean oil.

“The use of high-oleic soybean oil also creates a more oxidatively stable shortening thus reducing the risk of shelf life concerns,” Mr. Tiffany said.

Today’s shortenings must meet high standards on all sides, said Roger Daniels, vice-president, R.&D. and innovation for Stratas Foods. They must work well in the baker’s process, maintain quality throughout the baked food’s shelf life and meet consumer expectations in taste, appearance and quality.

To deliver on all fronts, Stratas Foods used its proprietary Flex crystallization to develop Apex, a non-pho high-oleic soybean shortening. Its versatility across baking, icing and donut applications and the functionality the shortening delivers makes it a drop-in solution, Mr. Daniels said.

Bunge Loders Croklaan’s portfolio of shortenings, which palm, soy and high-oleic oils, provides bakers with a wide range of temperatures and other functional needs they might have.

“Bunge’s high-performance shortenings are made with high-oleic soybean oil instead of commodity oils, offering greater stability and functionality in tough applications like icings and donuts,” said Mark Stavro, senior director of marketing, Bunge Loders Croklaan.

The company also offers its PhytoBake shortening for improved rollability and longer shelf life in tortillas, but Mr. Stavro said it could also be used in cookies, pie crusts, cakes and other baked foods.

Shortening functionality and stability can certainly be improved through blending and interesterification, but emulsifier technology can also solve these issues.

“If removing phos took away a lot of critical functionality, the use of high diglycerides, or distilled diglycerides, has brought it back,” said Jim Robertson, product management director, emulsifiers, Corbion. “When you combine a healthier, unsaturated oil with the binding capability and accelerated crystallization provided by Trancendium, Corbion’s high-diglyceride solution, you get the structure, flavor and texture needed for baking applications. You also get low levels of saturated fat and good oxidative stability, which means better product shelf life.”