With the move away from partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), fats and oils based in palm and soy have taken center stage as the baking industry’s go-to options. They dominate agriculture and have been commodified for consistency and pricing, creating some reliable shortening and oil options for the baking industry.


“Palm and soy are the two largest oil-bearing crops grown globally,” said Michelle Peitz, technical sales, refined oils, ADM Oilseeds. “While these oils offer many strong attributes when it comes to functionality for solid and liquid solutions, considerations around supply and availability, sustainability requirements, nutrition, and the positioning of a product may require a different oil source.”


While palm and soy may be ubiquitous and readily available, consumers’ constant questioning about their food and demands for more transparency can have bakers seeking alternative shortening and oil sources. Consumers can have a complicated relationship with soy, and some segments of the population avoid it all together. Palm can raise eyebrows when it comes to issues of sustainability. And with PHO functionality fully replaced with non-PHO options, bakers are turning their attention to improving the nutritional profile through fats.


“Consumers today are increasingly concerned with maintaining a healthy diet and are interested in foods that offer nutrition benefits supportive of their holistic health,” Ms. Peitz said. “In addition to paying more attention to ingredients in their food choices, consumers are taking a personalized approach to selecting foods, choosing options that align with specific dietary paths.”


For all these reasons, bakers might take a look at any of the alternative bakery fats and oils available to them: coconut, shea butter, cottonseed, canola, sunflower, olive, flaxseed, avocado, peanut or corn.


Alternative fat sources may have some intriguing characteristics, but there is a reason palm and soy are at the forefront. These crops have well-established supply chains, making them reliable and cost-friendly.

“The three key challenges working with other source oils are cost, availability and supply chain along with the production and utilization of new fractions from alternative raw materials not previously used in the bakery segment,” explained Lawrence Marks, bakery customer innovation manager, United States and Canada, AAK USA.

Without consumer demand, these sources won’t gain the traction necessary to make them more readily available and even out supply chain and cost concerns. That might be changing, though.

“As consumers get familiarized and manufacturers market their benefits, nutritional and organoleptic properties, it is just a matter of time before they will become more mainstream,” said Chandra Ankolekar, PhD; technical manager, bakery, dressings and oils; Kemin Food Technologies. “Some of the alternative oils, one could argue, are and have already become mainstream.”

That’s because consumers are already pursuing healthier foods and reading labels. They’re willing to put their money behind their demand for healthier, more transparent products.

“ADM research shows that today’s consumers are willing to pay more for products that offer health and wellness benefits,” Ms. Peitz said. “It can be ‘worth it’ for manufacturers to invest in higher cost ingredients when the cost can be offset by commanding a higher price point for the finished product, especially when targeting label-conscious consumers.”

Many of these oils have reduced saturated fat content that’s reflected on the Nutrition Facts Label. Consumers also may be looking at the ingredient list to avoid soy or palm, either for health or sustainability reasons or both. When targeting those consumers, any of the other base oils could be an option to deliver similar functionality without label concerns.

“If a customer comes to us and says, ‘This is what I need nutritionally, and this is what I’m looking for from a functional perspective,’ this is when these oils make sense,” said John Satumba, R&D director for edible oils, Cargill. “An example would be lowering saturated fat as in the case with our Clear Valley all-purpose shortening. Our customers were looking for a solution with the same functionality but with reduced saturated fat content, so we designed a shortening that delivered similar performance but with a higher nutritional profile.”

With a consumer population that increasingly diversifies its demands, alternative fats and oils can empower bakers to meet all of those demands.

“It is essential to have options available for manufacturers,” Dr. Ankolekar said. “Depending on the application, functionality and nutritional profile desired, these oils are often worth the investment. If an alternative oil helps a manufacturer improve their product without impacting freshness or safety of the product and minimal cost increases, it can be worth looking into an alternative source.”               

As consumers look for ingredients that are friendly to the environment and their health, bakers can turn to alternative fats for answers.

This article is an excerpt from the April 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature, click here.