Pro Tip: Understanding what characteristics of different fats contribute to baked goods can help bakers choose the right one. 

 Ah, Fat. The under-appreciated friend that only appears at holiday parties, where people aren’t too concerned about calories or costs. 

So why is fat important? For starters, fat contributes to caloric count, but it also functions in oven spring, processing and product quality as well. 

Let’s first understand the function of fat. Fat improves the mobility between molecules, making it easier for protein to glide and spring. This is what improves oven spring. It also interacts with protein and starch, creating fewer crumbs during slicing.

Fat contributes to texture by reducing toughness and enhancing tenderness. It also provides moistness and a smooth mouthfeel by coating the tongue and eliminating food surface grittiness.

As a flavor enhancer, it brings unique flavor notes, which are most pronounced with animal-based fats. And fat’s ability to get in between amylose molecules helps delay staling by interfering with starch gelatinization

Let’s now talk about the types of commercial fats that are commonly used in bread baking. 

Lard contains 100% fat and is obtained from pork fat. It adds an unusual flavor to buns, and many love the texture as it is an effective tenderizer. Lard provides a higher degree of tenderization than butter. If you’re worried about halal or kosher status, however, here are some substitutions for you: beef tallow, palm oil or shortening, applesauce, bananas or avocados.

Shortening is mainly made from hydrogenated soybean oil or other vegetable sources. It is also made up of 100% fat. Shortening usually has a hydrogenated base of soybean oil or cottonseed oil. Because hard fat is more tolerant than butter, shortening can withstand high-speed processing in doughs. In bread formulas, it can be used from 3% to 5% to improved sliceability, moistness, resilience and shelf life of the products. 

Butter contains 80% fat and 20% water and is made from churning cream that has been separated from cow’s milk. Nothing really beats the flavor and texture of a brioche when you use real butter in its formula.

The fat in butter is actually a water-in-oil emulsion. It is kept in emulsion due to how the butter fat crystalizes at low temperatures. Therefore, when butter melts at high temperatures, this emulsion is lost, and you see a separation of fat and water. This makes processing with butter challenging. The storage of butter prior to processing is important to keep the intewgrity of this emulsion during bread processing. 

Margarine is made from hydrogenated soybean oil or other vegetable sources, like cottonseed and palm. It is an economical alternative to dairy replacement of butter and consists of 80% vegetable fat and 20% water. It has better stability than butter and provides a good texture and mouthfeel to breads.

Liquid fat is frequently used in bread bakeries are canola, soybean, corn, and cottonseed oils. Soybean oil is 90% of oilseed production in the United States. It is commonly known as “vegetable oil” and is favored. 

These are the most common forms of fat used in many industrial bakeries. To learn more about them, take the BCB3 Fat and emulsifier seminar in our BAKER certified learning modules.

Lin Carson, PhD, is the founder and chief executive officer of Bakerpedia. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.