Once upon a time, lard and butter were the key ingredients for melt-in your-mouth cookies, flaky pie crusts and biscuits. Then came the revolution of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), which ushered in the modern baking era in which baked goods with long shelf lives could be made at lower costs. That revolution is now over, and food processors are quickly adapting to baking version 3.0.
Last November, FDA announced that partially hydrogenated oils, the materials that create trans fatty acids in many foods, are no longer GRAS (generally recognized as safe). Since 2006, PHOs have carried a trans-fat labeling requirement, which was enough of an incentive for many, but not all, food processors to move away from their use. Those selling only to foodservice, for instance had no consumer labeling to content with, and may have clung to existing formulas.
“Foodservice did not have labels to worry about, so they have been the slowest to come around,” says Gerald McNeill, vice president of research and development at IOI Loders Croklaan, Channahon, Ill.
Ingredient suppliers such as Loders have been busy for the past decade developing products that will allow for some of the functionality of PHOs without the transfat. Additionally, animal fats may be welcomed back in some circles of the baking segment.
“There is a lot of renewed activity,” McNeil says. “We have had a lot of recent inquiries from companies that are looking for alternatives to PHOs. The good news is we have quite few products in our portfolio that can replace them.”
Meanwhile, bakers have a broader selection of sweeteners and convenience ingredients to choose from as they reformulate for life after PHOs.
To the Tropics!
Palm oil has been used extensively in other parts of the world for decades, but often avoided in the U.S. because its saturated fat levels are significantly higher than that of hydrogenated oils. With the discovery that trans-fatty acids, are exponentially more harmful than saturated fats, there will be more consumer acceptance of palm-based products, McNeil predicts. Plus, steps can be taken to lower the overall saturated fat levels of palm oils, mostly through blending and processing.
“We have identified more than 20 components from palm oil,” he says. "We are able to separate those into their component forms through things like filtration and pressing and crystallization.”
That is how ingredient companies will be able to develop products with a variety of functions that will be nearly as flexible and easy to use as hydrogenated oils.
Bob Wainwright, technical director for the oils and shortenings group at Cargill Co., Wayzata, Minn., says tropical oils like palm will help fill the vacancy left by PHOs. Another option will be interesterification of seed oils.
Interesterified fat is a type of oil where the fatty acids have been moved from one triglyceride molecule to another. It is generally done to modify the melting point and to create an oil more suitable for deep frying or making margarine with good taste and low saturated fat content. While interesterified oils have been made from hydrogenated oils, they do not need to be, and will not be going forward.
Cargill's TransEnd line is made with this process, and the company markets it as an “enzymatic alternative,” that functions much like other shortening products but with no trans-fats and lower saturated fat.
While interesterification offers trans-free, low saturate products that perform well, the process is already viewed by consumers as a GMO swap-solution that might one day prove to be no better than hydrogenated oils. Natural food advocates like the Weston Price Foundation are opposing the use of interesterification because it alters the molecular structure of the oils, thereby creating a substance that the body is not familiar with.
Some experts in the edible oils field say about 70 percent of the trans-fats had already left the market before the FDA revealed that it would move for a ban.
John Jansen, senior vice president of regulation, quality and innovation with the oils division of Bunge Foods, St. Louis, says the picture will continue to change.
“Consumer acceptance is reshaping the industry as we move from trans-containing products to zero-trans per-serving and now, reduced saturated fat formulas,” Jansen says. “Consumers are now interested in removing those additional saturates in shortening applications.”
Butter, lard and tallow will likely make a measurable resurgence in the aftermath of PHOs. These ingredients can be more expensive, but they can play a role in natural foods where margins are a bit more forgiving.
Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust from General Mills, Golden Valley, Minn., an unbaked, pre-formed dough for making pie at home, uses hydrogenated lard, and scores a zero trans-fat claim on the label. The company's Artisan Pizza Crust uses a partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, for now, but also manages a zero trans-fat claim.