Fats and oils contribute greatly to many of consumers’ favorite bakery and snack products.

“In baked goods, fats and oils serve a multitude of functions, including flavor, flavor release, texture, mouthfeel, volume, creaminess, aeration, moisture retention and shelf life,” said Frank Flider, oils consultant, United Soybean Board. 

However, more consumers today are looking to decrease their intake of saturated fats, which are calorie-dense and pose health risks when consumed in high amounts.

“For years, health professionals have warned consumers that consuming too many foods high in fat is detrimental for their overall health and well-being, resulting in consumers having a higher interest in products that are healthier/better for them,” said Marie Shen, associate innovation specialist, Kemin. 

While there has been a shift away from saturated fats, certain fats are proving increasingly popular, providing better-for-you and clean label benefits. These include unsaturated oils such as high-oleic sunflower, canola and soy. 

“Consumers are seeking baked goods made with ‘healthy’ fats, in addition to increased fiber and protein, to help them feel full longer and sustain energy levels,” noted Michelle Peitz, technical solutions and marketing, oils, ADM. “Similarly, there is a growing appreciation for ‘good fats’ and increasing consumer desires for claims like ‘contains essential fatty acids.’ ”

Removing or reducing saturated fats is an effective way for food manufacturers to expand the appeal of their products. But doing so requires finesse to ensure these foods don’t lose critical functionality and structure. 

Approaching by application 

Saturated fats are critical to the structure and overall sensory profile of baked foods. These fats are also more oxidatively stable than unsaturated fats, which contributes to improved shelf life. 

“If they are reduced, the products may experience textural changes, such as decreased tenderness and potential loss of shelf life stability,” said Yanling Yin, PhD, director, research and development, Corbion. “From the standpoint of food producers, a fat or oil with a high level of saturation can last longer while maintaining a good quality; it saves costs for them.” 

To replace or reduce saturated fats, producers must first understand the role they play in their specific product, which can vary based on the type of baked food.

In cakes, for example, fat acts as a tenderizing agent, aids in emulsification and entraps air for a lighter product, noted John Satumba, PhD, global bakery technical lead and regional R&D director for North America, global edible oil solutions, Cargill. 

“In icings, they play critical roles providing structure and determining texture, color, appearance (glossiness) and shelf life,” he said. “In doughs, they coat sugar and flour particles and help reduce mixing time and energy requirements for dough development. In pastries, fats are responsible for plasticity, spreadability, layer separation and volume.”

Replacing the functionality of saturated fat is easier in some products than others. With cookies and muffins, for example, other ingredients can compensate for the loss of functionality fat provides, Dr. Yin said.

Jackie Steffey, senior customer innovation manager, AAK USA, added that lowering saturates is less difficult in applications where fat primarily provides lubricity. 

“Liquid oils that are naturally low in saturated fat can be used for these types of applications, such as crackers,” she said.

In laminated products like croissants, however, lowering saturated fats without compromising that desired flaky quality is a tall order. Icings and frosting are tricky as well. 

“In this application so much of the structure, air entrapment (for nice fluffy consistency) and flavor carrying depend on the fats,” said Tyronna Capers, director of marketing, Bunge. “If the saturated fat level is too low, it cannot properly entrap the air, so it will collapse over time.”

Frying oils can be challenging as well, noted John Neddersen, principal designer for bakery and fats and oils, IFF, as lowering saturates makes the oil prone to oxidation, which can result in off flavors. 

“In the more difficult applications, we look to reduce the level of saturated fat rather than eliminate it entirely,” he said.

This article is an excerpt from the October 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Fats & Oils, click here.