While palm and soy may be the workhorses of baked foods — they’re cost-effective with well-established supply chains — alternative oils offer plenty of benefits. For example, liquid oils like sunflower, peanut and canola consist mostly of unsaturated fats. This enables bakers to position products made with them as better-for-you (BFY). High-oleic oils also provide some functionality benefits, too.

“Many oils such as high-oleic variety of sunflower provide extended stability and shelf life over the traditional counterparts,” said Rick Cummisford, director of quality control for Columbus Vegetable Oils. “There are many other exciting oils such as extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil, which offer a high-oleic acid content that provides stability and nutritional benefits, such as potential improvements in heart health, lowering cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.”

Sunflower, for example, has a lower level of saturated fat than soybean but with high stability. It’s a very label-friendly ingredient.

“The high-stability sunflower oil offers improved functionality, including extended fry life and shelf life,” said Mark Stavro, senior director of marketing, Bunge Loders Croklaan. “Additionally, many of these oils align with consumer trends, including non-GMO as well as minimal processing in the case of expeller-pressed canola.”

Cottonseed oil has desirable chemistry, stability and flavor. This means that the oil behaves predominantly like a liquid at room temperature while also providing plasticity to shortenings, said John Satumba, R&D director for edible oils, Cargill. The oil delivers a clean flavor profile and stability and can be very effective on its own or when blended with other base oils. Proprietary blends of cottonseed and canola are part of Cargill’s Clear Valley line of shortenings, which provides the desired plasticity in baking applications.

“We’re able to manipulate the palmitic acid content in cottonseed to deliver the right plasticity, but because of its solid fat content and high stability, cottonseed oil also imparts desirable stability or shelf life in finished products,” Mr. Satumba said.

Solid fats made from alternative base oils can be effective but also have some challenges.

“Coconut oil is a common choice due to its perceived health benefits,” Ms. Peitz said. “However, it does not have the functional attributes of a typical all-purpose shortening since it is solid at room temperature but melts at a very low temperature.”

Coconut oil has 92% saturated fat and high stability, lending to its functionality in a variety of baking applications, on its own or in blends.

“However, there remains division and fragmentation within the scientific community around some of the messaging around coconut oil,” Mr. Satumba said. While there is scientific evidence around its benefits, we do advise responsible consumption and limits as always with all our ingredients.”

To provide bakers an all-purpose shortening option that takes some guesswork out of alternative fats, Cargill developed its Clear Valley all-purpose shortening. With proprietary technology, Cargill manipulated the canola oil to create a reduced saturated fat shortening that could deliver all-purpose functionality.

“With the all-purpose Clear Valley line, our target was to reduce the saturated fat content overall,” Mr. Satumba explained. “It allows bakers to have the same functionality in terms of plasticity, sensory and flavor profile, ease of use in operations, and increased shelf life, but with reduced saturated fat content.”

The shortening consists of 23% saturated fat, which he compared to palm, which has 50%. 

In Europe, AAK offers its Akobake line of palm-free bakery fats made with shea butter and coconut oils. Many of these ingredients contain no more saturated fat than traditional butter.

“These Akobake palm-free products are designed to have the same functionality as the palm-based products they replace,” said Lawrence Marks, bakery customer innovation manager, United States and Canada, AAK USA. “Additionally, palm-free bakery fats made with shea and coconut oils are free of hydrogenation.”

Non-palm- and non-soy-based margarines and shortenings can be just as effective in formulations as their conventional counterparts. Mr. Marks explained that they can contribute softness, tender bite, texture, flavor and structure in cookies. They even can promote layer separation and flakiness in laminated doughs.

“In many cases these margarines and shortening products provide better working time and plasticity than butter,” he said.

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