When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revoked the Generally Recognized as Safe status for partially hydrogenated oils (o.h.o.s), the baking industry scrambled to find replacement fats and oils to deliver the same level of functionality to their products. While bakers still needed fats that could provide the same stability, flavor and ease-of-use, this regulatory change shook up the industry.

“The fundamental need in the industry remains the same, but what has changed is the regulatory landscape,” said John Satumba, R.&D. director of Cargill’s global edible oils business in North America. “With p.h.o.s behind us, some of those key concerns were magnified.”

While formulators grappled with how to replace p.h.o.s, customization became a possible solution.

“Customization was around, but it was for more specialized applications, such as different types of frosting or candies,” said Frank Flider, consultant, Qualisoy. “But when p.h.o.s were banned, the industry had no choice but to look at these alternative technologies.”

Those include interesterification, high-oleic crops and analytical testing that enable formulators to fully understand how fats can be changed to get the desired finished product.

With these technologies in hand, bakers and ingredient suppliers can fulfill specific functional needs as well as storage and ease-of-use concerns. Bakers can zero in on desired melting curves while using their preferred base oil or meeting a clean label need.

“Customization allows a precise sharpshooter target on fat function in a specific end use rather than making do with a less optimized general-purpose fat,” said David Rowe, chief technology officer, Epogee Foods.

When off-the-shelf isn’t enough

Customization opens up possibilities for bakers. They are no longer bound by the limitations of base oils; technology and innovation have freed them from that. Fats can be tailor-made to specific applications, the bakery environment, process considerations, nutritional concerns or any number of other goals bakers are trying to meet.

“Bakers are able to optimize their fats and oils to achieve specific goals in a given formulation,” said Mark Stavro, Ph.D., senior director of marketing, Bunge Loders Croklaan. “For example, we have a shortening that was developed specifically for very cold pie dough that uses our unique enzymatic process to deliver a non-p.h.o. solution that is free of trans fats.”

Application comes into play when deciding whether a customized fat or oil is required, said Jim Doucet, manager of emulsifier technology, Corbion. For example, while bread doesn’t have much need for specialty fat or oil ingredients, sweet goods do.

While p.h.o.s may have taken customized fats mainstream, overarching trends in the baking industry have sustained the need for custom solutions. At the core, bakers need fats that will perform in the formulation whether that’s providing stability, lift, flavor or a clean fry. Beyond function, fat choices are dictated by consumer demand.

“For the most part, it’s trends that are driving some of the customization we’re seeing,” Mr. Satumba said. “Some of those include saturated fat reduction and more nutritious products, but also overall, the clean label initiative is driving some of the customization we’re seeing.”

With the technology available today, rising to meet those trends doesn’t appear to be an issue for fat suppliers.

“A particular shortening can be developed to fit a specific application based off of the process, plant conditions and other ingredients,” said Rick Cummisford, director of quality control at Columbus Vegetable Oils. “This also includes marketing aspects by the end use manufacturer, such as clean label, sustainably sourced, non-G.M.O., organic, natural and others.”

Technologies toolbox

Customization would not be possible without improved technology, which has been around for a long time but has become more mainstream with the need for customization. More sophisticated analytical technology has given the industry a better understanding of how different fats act in a formulation and how tweaks to those fats alter a finished product.

“The realm of possibilities has changed a lot largely because we have a better way to measure what happens when we change the various fats and oils,” Mr. Flider said. “Interesterification, blending or fractionation can give different hard and soft fats, but what’s really made customization work was to be able to measure what happens when you make a change like that.”

With sophisticated viscometers and texture analyzers, ingredient suppliers can use a variety of tests to show exactly what happens to a finished baked good’s texture, bite, chewiness, crispiness, softness and mouthfeel. Before, bakers would rely on trained tasters and panelists, but today’s instruments can reveal how a fat is responding in a finished product.

Those technologies that ingredient suppliers have at their fingertips enable them to tweak base fats and oils to deliver the functionalities that bakers need. Interesterification can be used to transform oils that are liquid at room temperature into solid, more stable fat options for baked goods.

“Consumers want better-for-you fats, so ingredient suppliers needed to find ways to achieve the hardness of structured fats without traditional hard fats,” said James Jones, Ph.D., vice-president, customer innovation, AAK USA Inc. “Interesterification changes the position of fatty acids in triglycerides to increase the firmness-building capability of the fat. Then, special fat homogenization and crystallization equipment can be used to turn the recombined liquid oils into solidified fats or shortenings and margarines.”

This ability to rearrange fatty acids to arrive at a solid-at-room-temperature fat from an oil opens the possibilities of base oils that were previously unavailable to be used in applications requiring a fat.

“Enzymatic interesterification is a technology that helps suppliers more precisely blend oils and fats to create bakery fats with enhanced performance and sensory benefits by application,” Dr. Stavro said. “Bakers can then choose bakery fats to specifically meet their needs and solve pain points by application.”

Interesterification isn’t the only technology that enables ingredient suppliers to customize fats to bakers’ specific needs. The toolbox of technologies is full of options that can help bakers use the base oils they want to achieve the functionality and label criteria they need. Blending, fractionation, hydrogenation and even enhancing base oil traits can be used alone or together to create new fats specific to each baker’s product.

“For example, a customer might come to us looking for a particular texture, which we know we can dial in by looking at the solid fat content of a particular shortening,” Mr. Satumba said. “All those tools allow us to customize or dial in to a particular need a customer might have for a shortening.”

Ingredient suppliers also offer bakers the fruits of their proprietary technology as well. Cargill developed its latest fat solution, PalmAgility, with proprietary technology. This line brings a new level of temperature tolerance to palm-based shortenings. This makes the shortening easier to transport to the bakery, easier to use and prevents brittleness that can diminish finished product quality.

Stratas Foods developed its proprietary flex crystallization technology, which resulted in a non-p.h.o. soybean shortening product. Apex delivers the functionality of p.h.o.s from a soy-based oil rather than palm. This is just one way new technologies have expanded bakers’ options when it comes to fat choices.

Epogee Foods’ EPG fat replacer enables bakers to lower the fat content of baked foods without sacrificing taste, texture or appearance. EPG is derived from the rapeseed oil, which is split into glycerin and fatty acids. Food-grade propoxy re-links the fatty acid and glycerin to create something new that mimics fat in a formulation but isn’t absorbed by the body, resulting in 92% fewer calories than fat. While EPG does have to be blended with fats in oils to bring its melting point below human body temperature, it enables some fat replacement in a formulation.

Emulsifiers also can enable flexibility when it comes to customizing fats. Corbion’s SweetPro solution can help bakers achieve their goals when they reformulate.

“For example, if a customer wants to separate an emulsifier from the fat or oil in order to create more flexibility or change the functionality, we can help them do that,” Mr. Doucet said.

AAK can provide customized fat solutions through multiple oils, blending, fractions of oils, non-trans hydrogenated oils, interesterification and controlled crystallization, but the company also can customize its fat flakes to specific spices, flavors, colors and functional ingredients.

While customized fat solutions may be the new normal for the baking industry, they aren’t without their challenges. Sometimes these fats might not have the same oxidative stability as their conventional counterparts, said Chandra Ankolekar, Ph.D., technical manager, Kemin Food Technologies.

Kemin uses its oxidation expertise to achieve similar oxidative stability in fats and oils.

“Our technical team understands how ingredients work together, and we help bakers determine whether they need simple, single-ingredient formulas, customized blends or extracts all designed to solve difficult, specific technical challenges with cost-effective solutions,” Dr. Ankolekar said.

This article is an excerpt from the April 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on fats and oils, click here.