KANSAS CITY — Eighteen years ago, Columbus Vegetable Oils, Des Plaines, Ill., offered about 12 shortening products and about all of them contained partially hydrogenated oils, said Rick Cummisford, director of quality control.

“Now we have probably close to 80 products, and none of them are p.h.o.s,” he said.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations and customization by application have led to more diverse oil/shortening portfolios across the food industry. The F.D.A. in June 2015 determined there no longer is a consensus among qualified experts that p.h.o.s are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for use in human food because p.h.o.s are the primary dietary source of trans fatty acids. The F.D.A. gave the food industry three years to remove p.h.o.s from their products.

Finding p.h.o. alternatives was more difficult in applications such as icings, donuts and pies, but oil systems introduced in 2019 address those applications. Recent innovations allowed the use of palm oil in a wider temperature range. Interesterification of soybean oil proved valuable over the course of the migration away from p.h.o.s, and oil blends became more prominent.

Shortening launches in 2019

Bunge Loders Croklaan, a business of Bunge Ltd. and based in Chesterfield, Mo., this year launched Vream Elite soy-based specialty shortenings that maximize taste, texture and functionality of icings, cakes, pies, donuts and cookies. Vream Tortilla, a soy-based shortening, is designed to help tortilla makers create soft tortillas with rollability and machinability.

“There are all-purpose options that work well for some, but we find that application-specific solutions provide much better sensory and functionality benefits,” said Mark Stavro, senior director of marketing. “For instance, while an all-purpose shortening can make a very good traditional icing, a specialized icing shortening like Vream Elite for icings is necessary to create a more premium, highly aerated and stable icing that holds up superbly over shelf life.”

Vream Elite for pie mimics the texture and functionality of lard while delivering freeze-thaw tolerance together with crusts that are tender and flaky, according to Bunge Loders Croklaan. Vream Elite for cookies enables creaming of ingredients that leads to smooth dough consistency and allows bakers to create their preferred finished texture, from soft and chewy to crispy.

Customized systems may solve temperature issues.

“As a general rule of thumb, if you increase temperature, you are reducing your stability,” Mr. Cummisford said. “Like any reaction, it occurs faster when it’s hotter.”

Cargill, Minneapolis, took temperature into consideration and this year launched PalmAgility bakery shortenings for Danish, icing and donut frying as well as PalmAgility all-purpose shortening.

Cargill donuts“Historically, palm oil-based shortenings presented several challenges to bakery professionals, including slow rates of crystallization, lack of temperature tolerance in the supply chain and low plasticity in applications,” said John Satumba, Ph.D., research and development director, global edible oils, North America for Cargill. “Cargill’s research and development teams invested thousands of hours developing improved palm oil-based bakery solutions that address these concerns. The result, our new PalmAgility bakery shortenings, helps to reduce brittleness across a wider temperature range, allowing customers to store it easily without sacrificing workability or texture. This also helps address issues that can develop in transportation due to fluctuations in outdoor temperatures, a variable outside of a customer’s control.”

PalmAgility 302 icing shortening creates icings that spread smoothly even when stored at temperatures below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and they perform well in freeze/thaw applications, said Jamie Mavec, senior marketing manager for Cargill. PalmAgility 407 icing shortening is a firmer shortening designed for icings that need to hold up to temperatures greater than 65 degrees.

The creamy texture of PalmAgility 210 Danish shortening creates a pliable dough and helps reduce breakage during sheeting, even when the dough is stored at temperatures below 65 degrees, she said, while PalmAgility 213 and 217 donut frying shortenings offer a faster set-up on the donut surface and reduced oil weeping over 24 hours compared to standard palm-based donut fry shortenings.

Some initial p.h.o. replacements had a narrow temperature working range, Mr. Stavro said.

“Newer solutions, like Vream, have a wider temperature tolerance, which means that they deliver the same great workability whether in cooler or warmer conditions, ultimately improving ease of use,” he said.

Storage and usage temperatures of shortenings are important to bakeries and end applications, said Michelle Peitz, technical sales, refined oils, for ADM Oilseeds, part of Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago.

“Fluctuations in storage temperature can cause a shortening to soften and re-solidify, inadvertently changing the overall crystal structure the shortening producer established,” she said. “This can impact how the shortening performs during production.

“Following the prescribed storage conditions from your supplier for the specific product you are working with is important. Considerations for transportation and seasonality are also important. For example, if a fat is required for a filling that will ship on trucks or sit in warehouses with no temperature control in the summer months, a more robust/high-melt-point fat system may be needed.”

Palm oil may become hard, primarily due to its limited triglyceride differentiation, which gives it a relative narrow melting range, according to Stratas Foods, Memphis, Tenn. When temperatures are too cold, the palm-based shortening is too brittle or stiff. When temperatures are too warm, the palm-based shortening is too liquid and lacks body.

Stratas developed Flex palm as an improvement to conventional palm-based shortenings.

“Flex palm oil is good for baking as it can provide excellent volume with a desired texture,” said Roger Daniels, vice-president of research, development and innovation. “However, for customers desiring excellent working character, our go-to recommendation is always our Apex product.”

Apex, a non-p.h.o. soybean shortening line launched in 2016, uses Stratas’ proprietary Flex crystallization technology. It may be used in more challenging applications like baking, icing and donuts.

“Apex offers p.h.o. utility without the p.h.o.,” Mr. Daniels said. “This innovation moves the needle in terms of consistency, stability, firmness and performance by leveraging, for the first time, the marriage of Stratas’ functional crystallization with an
expanded and more resilient fatty acid platform. Moreover, Apex achieves this major step with a soybean oil rather than a palm oil-based system.”

The color of palm shortenings may pose a challenge for specific high-fat applications where bright white is expected, such as with icing, Ms. Peitz said.

“Palm oil inherently has more red color compounds, which makes achieving a bright white color difficult,” she said. “When bright white is desired, soy-based shortenings still provide the brightest white options.”

Interesterification has led to increased use of soy-based shortenings.

“There are more options than ever for interesterified soy shortenings, and they are better than ever,” Ms. Pietz said. “When the soy industry introduced high-oleic soybean oil varieties in North America, it furthered the functionality of interesterified soy by providing improved oxidative stability and enhanced fat contents. ADM, a pioneer in enzymatically interesterified soy products, continues to grow in this space.”

Blends of oils, oil fractions and fully hydrogenated oils are being interesterified to precisely dial in the desired functionality product formulators need to replace and even improve upon the functionality afforded by p.h.o.s, said Lawrence Marks, customer innovation manager, bakery for AAK USA Inc., Edison, N.J.

AAK cupcake“These new fats and oils solutions replace single-oil p.h.o.s like partially hydrogenated soybean oil and are designed to closely mimic, and in most cases outperform, the characteristics of their p.h.o. predecessors,” he said. “AAK has found great success working closely with customers to replace p.h.o.s by using a portfolio of ingredient and processing techniques.”

Each product application has its own unique requirements and challenges for fats and oils, he said.

“In terms of icing applications, emulsified palm-based products are commonly used by AAK customers to manufacture a wide variety of icing and frosting products,” Mr. Marks said. “These plastic shortening types provide the functionality required for aeration, creaming ability, melting profile and non-waxy mouthfeel.”

In donut frying, AAK makes palm-based products that meet and exceed the requirements of texture, mouthfeel and flavor in the final product, he said.

Applications such as laminated doughs have unique obstacles, Mr. Marks said. Laminated applications require fat layers to be smooth and continuous while having structure-building and rheological properties robust enough to handle lamination processing.

“The plasticity and texture of interesterified high-oleic soybean shortening, blends of palm and palm fractions, or blends of fully hydrogenated palm and soy oil can be beneficial for bakery applications that require a high degree of processing,” Mr. Marks said. “Puff pastry, laminated dough and croissants are excellent candidates for using these types of vegetable fats.”

AAK featured its shortening portfolio in mini chocolate chip cupcakes with vanilla frosting that were sampled at the International Baking Industry Exposition held in September in Las Vegas. AAK’s Cisao 81-20 all-purpose shortening, made with palm for reduced saturated fat applications, gave the cupcake its desirable clean mouthfeel along with creamability and the ability to customize. Cisao 81-16 was featured in an emulsified shortening to give the frosting its creamy texture, help retain its shape and structure, and allow its delicate vanilla flavor to shine through. Cebes 29-72 NH, AAK’s cocoa butter substitute, gave the chocolate chips a clean mouthfeel with no waxy coating and an optimal melt profile, allowing the chips to retain their structure during storage, baking and in the final product.

Years of work

The transition away from p.h.o.s began early in the century when the F.D.A. first said it was mandatory to list trans fat on the Nutrition Facts Label, a rule that went into effect in 2006. Much innovation involving p.h.o. alternatives occurred before the F.D.A. ruled p.h.o.s no longer were GRAS.

“Probably 80% of our business had already migrated away from p.h.o.s (by that time),” Mr. Cummisford said. “It’s been a pretty quick decline, but it’s always a trick to replace a product that you got comfortable in using over decades of time. You do miss some of the subtle nuances, not just for performance properties of the p.h.o.s, but you also are losing some stability aspects.”

Columbus Vegetable Oils now has more than 200 different types of food oils that may be blended, he said.

“Sometimes we can get an idea of what the customer is looking for, and if something that we have currently works, that’s great,” Mr. Cummisford said. “Otherwise, in some cases we have to go back away from our own inventory and stock items and start thinking about what (the customer’s) application is, what they’re trying to achieve and what properties they are looking for, and it might take a custom-made thing. We do quite a bit of custom-mades.”