Trans fats were abruptly shown the door after 2006, when the FDA required that they be listed on ingredient statements and recommended that they be avoided. While that happened swiftly, the dust is still settling over what will replace hydrogenated oils in food processing. Reverting to products high in saturated fats won't be a long term solution, either.
According to the International Food Information Council Foundation's 2012 Food & Health Survey, 56 percent of consumers say they limit or avoid trans fats and, when buying food, 55 percent consider saturated fat and 66 percent factor in the Nutrition Facts label.
"As a country, we are experiencing a move away from unhealthy fats in the food supply," says Lynne Morehart, senior principal scientist-oils and shortenings at Cargill Inc., Wayzata, Minn.
"For example, Walmart has committed to removing industrially produced trans fat in all packaged foods by 2015," she says. "The National School Lunch and Breakfast programs require trans fat to be 0g per serving and saturated fat must be limited to less than 10 percent of all calories based on an average over the week."
In order to remain on the shelves and in the school lunch line, food processors are reformulating their products, and ingredient suppliers like Cargill have been busy coming up with new shortening and oil products that will allow bakers, and other food marketers to keep their labels consumer-friendly.
"The best way to do that depends on the product and the manufacturer's target fat goals. It also depends upon what the consumer wants to buy," says Morehart.
A food processor with an application requiring a solid fat (frosting, cookies, doughnuts) needs to decide whether palm oil -- which is solid at room temperature and contains no trans fat from hydrogenation, but is 50 percent saturated fat -- is acceptable from an ingredient listing perspective.
If it is, Cargill will recommend its Trans Advantage P-100 NH Palm Shortening, a blend of canola and palm oil with no trans fats and 39 percent saturated fat.
On the other hand, if a food maker is OK with listing a hydrogenated fat on the label as long as it contains no trans fat per serving because it's a fully hydrogenated fat, Cargill offers soybean and hydrogenated soybean oil or interesterified soybean oil, under the brand TransEnd All Purpose Shortening. The saturated fat content is 44 percent -- slightly less than that of palm oil at 50 percent saturated fat, and using it keeps the word "palm" off the ingredient listing.
Bunge North America St. Louis, also has rolled out some solutions to the shortening puzzle, thanks in part to what it describes as a "triacylglycerols mismatch" crystallization process. An example is Bunge's UltraBlends 148, an all-purpose shortening that offers a 40 percent reduction of saturate levels.
Sold under the Low Saturate No Hydro product line, UltraBlends 148 has zero trans fat, and "provides greater levels of heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated levels over traditional shortening, while removing hydrogenation from the ingredient declaration," according to the company's online product information.
The formula includes canola oil, palm oil, mono & diglycerides, powdered cellulose, TBHQ and citric acid added to help protect flavor.
Cargill also offers shortening solutions that provide zero trans fat and lower saturated fat levels. The most dramatic improvements come from a mixture of canola oil and hydrogenated cottonseed oil marketed under the Clear Valley brand, which has zero grams trans fat per serving and 22 percent saturated fat compared to palm oil.
While the food industry has been busy redefining shortenings and oils for better nutrition, there have been other innovations in the arena as well.
Just last month, IOI Loders Croklaan Channahon, Ill., rolled out a new line of colored and flavored shortenings under the FuseRite brand. The products, which were on exhibit at the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) in Las Vegas, are said to enhance color and flavors in many baking applications. And they are also free of trans fats.
"FuseRite is creamy, consistent, easy to use and trans-fat-free, making it the ideal palm shortening," Maarten Goos, IOI Loders Croklaan marketing manager, stated in a release. "Perhaps best of all, the FuseRite line will enhance an application's color, flavor, and texture – all to support our continuous effort to meet the needs of the market."
Loders also offers a broad line of products including non trans fat solutions like its San-Trans Cake Shortening.