Richard Leboucher was born and raised in Paris, but his summers as a child were spent in the French countryside. 

“I would spend my days with farmers growing and harvesting wheat, and this is how a passion for the baking industry was born,” he said. “It was always a painful time to go back to city life after the summer.”

At the Institute of Science and Technology in Paris, Mr. Leboucher was exposed to baking even further, and he loved linking the biochemistry science he was learning to real baking applications related to wheat, flour and bread. 

“The biochemistry education was already very much oriented toward the baking industry, which made it so interesting,” he said. 

Mr. Leboucher graduated with master’s degrees in cereal biochemistry and food technology and processing. He spent the first eight years of his professional career in R&D roles in France before accepting a position with Puratos USA, where he’s worked for the past 20 years. 

At Puratos USA, Mr. Leboucher has served as vice president of R&D, R&D director and R&D manager, and is currently the company’s R&D director for bakery in Los Angeles. One of the most recent advancements he helped create is an enzyme-based solution bakers can use to replace oil in their baked foods. 

Even after nearly 30 years in baking, Mr. Leboucher said, the industry is still full of new challenges that he loves to take on. 

“The industry moves very quickly, which provides a lot of opportunities to come up with new solutions and new technologies; it is not a steady industry where nothing happens,” he said. “It is really amazing to look at the bakery products available in the market and to ask ourselves, ‘How many of these were already in the market five years earlier?’ Besides that, everybody knows in this industry that a good performing solution in one bakery does not necessarily mean that the solution will be optimal in another industrial environment. This is another layer of complexity or, as I like to put it, another layer of excitement and opportunity. It keeps us sharp and forces us to never settle for the status quo. Even with existing solutions, we need to find ways to make them work everywhere.”

While there is plenty of opportunity in the industry, Mr. Leboucher noted that a big challenge facing it is the lack of skilled workers and bakers, something he and Puratos are working to change. The company has opened bakery schools in underprivileged communities across the globe, including most recently in Puratos USA’s headquarters of Pennsauken, NJ. 

“What is nice about this initiative is that not only does it help the community by providing an education, but it will also help our industry to find more people interested in bakery and who will start with a solid formation,” he said.

What role does oil serve in baked foods?

Oil is widely used in baked foods and can have a lot of different functionalities. At high levels, its role is essentially to bring softness and texture while contributing to the flavor perception. At lower levels that I am covering here — less than 5% — it is used mainly to facilitate slicing for applications like sliced breads and hamburger buns while contributing to the softness of the crumb and giving the crumb a shorter bite. At these levels, oil also improves and facilitates the processing of the dough on automated lines as the oil serves as a lubricant. 

Why may bakers want to remove oil from their formulation? What are some of the benefits?

Oil prices have skyrocketed over the past year and a half, going from approximately $0.30/lb to more than $0.80/lb. Although it is still not a very expensive ingredient in the recipe in terms of $/lb (compared to enzyme systems, for example), the large quantities used can end up adding up to large amounts of money at the end of the year. Supply issues have also been reported; because of that, removing oil started to appear on the radar screen of bakers. And, with the ever-growing trend of “better for you,” any reduction in oil that does not affect the quality of the bread is a benefit. Who would not choose a bread lower in fat vs. the full-fat version if the quality and the eating experience remain the same?

What are some of the challenges of removing oil from a formulation?

The challenges are in all the attributes that these low levels of oil bring: how to facilitate the slicing of bread without oil, how to keep that shorter bite that the oil brings and how to keep the processing ability of the dough when oil is removed. All of these are challenges that need to be addressed by any potential alternate solution.

What bakery applications are best suited for oil replacement?

All yeast-raised baked foods that contain less than 10% of oil on flour weight are good candidates; considering the volumes of sandwich breads (white, multigrain, whole wheat-bread slices) and hamburger buns manufactured, these are particularly good applications for this technology considering the cost savings that can be generated.

As an enzyme manufacturer, we developed a product called Frimase S3106. It is a cost-effective enzyme system that can be used to replace low levels of oil (less than 5%) without affecting the dough or the bread. A specific enzyme combination is used in this module to ensure a good slice-ability of the bread or bun while delivering on the texture attribute (short bite) and the slightly extra softness that low oil levels bring. 

Are there certain bakery applications where oil replacement is easier or more difficult?

Since we are talking about yeast-raised products, as a rule of thumb, the higher the oil content, the more challenging the replacement is. At or below 5%, the replacement is pretty straightforward and requires little adjustments; next to the oil being removed and the enzyme system being added, the hydration is slightly increased to keep the same dough rheology. When the oil content is above 5%, the replacement is a little bit more challenging and usually requires a few trials to adjust the enzyme activity to the entire formula and to adjust the hydration.

How can bakers determine whether a full or partial oil replacement is best for their product?

Here also it depends mainly on the amount of oil to replace; below 5%, a full replacement is possible in almost all cases; above 5%, the situations have to be approached on a case-by-case basis but good results can be achieved at up to 10%. Beyond that, a certain amount of oil needs to be kept in the formulas.

Considering that this module replaces low levels of fat (less than 5%), a full replacement can be achieved in most cases. Plant trial validations have shown that the dough rheology remains very good while delivering on the attributes that the oil normally brings, even when the full 4% to 5% oil is removed.