Since the 1950s, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils have been the primary replacement for butter, lard, palm oil, coconut oil, and other “hard” fats in many processed foods. And in the world of baking today, most cakes, cookies, pie crusts and crackers contain shortening made from this type of oil.
Partial hydrogenation is a process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, eliminating most of the unstable fatty acids and causing the oil to become solid at room temperature. Shelf-life is increased, and the oil is better able to match the cooking properties of solid shortenings.
For all their advantages, partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are, however, also the primary source of trans-fatty acids, more commonly known as trans-fats. Numerous studies have shown PHOs can promote the risk of coronary attack by raising the level of Low Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol (LDL) in the blood while reducing High Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol (HDL). In fact, higher risks of cardiovascular disease can already be registered at daily trans-fatty acid intake levels of just 5 to 6 grams. Other studies have indicated that a high intake of saturated fats and trans-fats promotes insulin resistance, too, threatening consumers with Type 2 diabetes.
From PHOs to no PHOs
In June 2015, the US FDA finally took the mounting evidence to heart, finalising a determination that artificial trans-fats are not generally recognised as safe, and set a three-year time limit for their removal from all processed foods. Despite an 85% reduction already achieved by the industry over the past 10 years, mainly due to the mandatory labelling, US manufacturers were facing a challenging phase-out period toward PHO-free recipes. More recently, Taiwan and Thailand have started the trend in Asia, imposing bans on the use of trans-fatty acids in industrially produced foods in 2018, making it only a question of time before other countries in the region will follow suit.
Happily, a few countries have been hard at work on solutions for over a decade. Most notable among these is Denmark, where PHOs were banned already in 2004. In the years that followed, the southernmost Scandinavian country was able to demonstrate a remarkable improvement in cardiovascular disease mortality rates.1 Denmark is also where the world’s first commercial food emulsifiers were invented by Palsgaard A/S, enabling more than 100 years of expertise to be applied to the various challenges of trans-fat-free production today.
Life without PHOs
PHOs have long helped to form more stable products, support mouth-feel, and extend shelf-life. Without them, it can be more difficult to consistently produce high-quality results. In fact, every part of the production process becomes more sensitive to a variety of factors that were comfortably handled by partially hydrogenated oils in the past. So how can recipes be adjusted to deliver uninterrupted product quality?
In the search for new sources of unsaturated fat, it doesn’t take long to realise that the road ahead for large-scale bakery production is paved with palm oil. While fully hydrogenated soy bean oil, like palm oil, doesn’t appear to have negative health consequences, and while the former is generally preferred in the US market for traditional reasons, its melting point is too high to be useful.
Activated emulsifiers to the rescue
So much for the choice of oil. But how can manufacturers get non-hydrogenated palm oil to perform just as well, or even better than the good old days of PHO-based recipes? For lower-fat cakes, the challenges are relatively few. For high-fat products, however, bakers can reap significant benefits by switching from shortenings to ‘activated’ cake emulsifiers. In fact, with the right combination of emulsifiers and expert assistance from the emulsifier manufacturer, a non-PHO recipe can be created with a very similar mouth-feel and texture to the PHO-containing original.
Rapid all-around functionality
Activated cake emulsifiers are a particular Palsgaard speciality and were invented by the company over 30 years ago. Unlike emulsifiers carried on shortening, activated emulsifiers are activated on starch in a highly sophisticated extrusion process, resulting in a convenient free-flowing white powder that keeps fat out of the equation. The whipping active emulsifier is fixed to the outer surface of the starch particles during the extrusion process, and a very large surface area of several square meters in a single gram is created. The effect is rapid functionality with fast uptake and incorporation of air into a cake batter for improved stability and higher quality.
When bakers use liquid oil to substitute for trans-fats, the emulsifier system needs to be able to hold the liquid oil into the cake batter to avoid a change in mouthfeel and oiling-out in the cake. Emulsifiers that can tolerate high amounts of oil in both aerated and non-aerated systems are therefore necessary. Today’s best activated cake emulsifiers both aerate (form the cake’s structure) and emulsify (combine water and oil). In Palsgaard’s product range, they are based on specially selected polyglycerol esters and mono- and diglycerides made from non-GMO vegetable fats and aimed at optimising performance in cake systems.
Powdered, extruded emulsifiers were developed with high functional stability in mind. Achieving such stability is largely a question of which form is taken by emulsifier crystals: Alpha, beta or beta-prime.
In cake pre-mixes, the use of saturated fats and shortenings requires fats to be incorporated in the mix by spraying or cutting the melted shortening into the dry ingredients. Emulsifiers are then incorporated together with the oil in the mix. As the cake mix cools off, emulsifier crystals are formed, not all of which will be in an alpha form, or which may morph from alpha to beta and beta-prime crystals during the shelf-life of the cake mix, leaving the cake mix without the emulsifier’s expected functionality.
Powdered activated emulsifiers remain in an active alpha form, which is the most stable crystal form to incorporate air, for a very long period of time. Consequently, these products have easily up to 24 months of shelf-life and will keep its performance throughout the shelf-life of the cake mix.
Powdered emulsifiers are also more easily dispersed in the mix than non-powdered solutions, making them easier to work with, particularly when it comes to dosing. In cake mixes, too, added ingredients don’t need to have a particular order and the all-in-one method can be used more reliably.
The fewer ingredients an emulsifier contains, the easier it is to work with in product development or when adjusting existing recipes. Palsgaard’s active emulsifiers, for example, comprise just two ingredients.
Depending on their source, therefore, such emulsifiers can have a number of advantages over traditional, PHO-based solutions, helping manufacturers to:
- Provide healthier cakes
- Develop label-friendly products free of fats
- Shorten labels by incorporating more functionality in fewer ingredients
- Enable single-step production instead of the several steps required for shortening-based recipes
- Increase their sustainability profile via RSPO Segregated palm oil-based, all-vegetable, non-GMO emulsifiers
- Reduce sugar content (where sugar-free emulsifiers are used)
Time to choose
Today, bakers have a range of powdered, activated emulsifier types from which to select, each with its particular applications and advantages. For industrial bakers using shortenings or gels, one option is to choose a versatile active emulsifier that can be applied in a variety of products from sponge cakes, Swiss rolls or layer cakes to pound cakes.
Other activated emulsifier products particularly suited to retail cake mixes can ensure very fast reactions, as can be seen by the whipping curve in Figure 2.
Depending on the cake type, low density can be achieved in as little as two to four minutes, making it possible to create lighter, softer and highly aerated cakes. Such emulsifiers are also highly tolerant of other ingredients – enabling optimal results in situations where the manufacturer has little control over consumer ingredient choices.
Last, but certainly not least, using activated emulsifiers in cake production opens the way to more sustainable product offerings. A small, but growing number of ingredient manufacturers can, in fact, deliver emulsifiers with RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) Segregated certification. Achieving this level of sustainability, however, requires more of the manufacturer’s own production setup, and Palsgaard has been busy supporting customers that aim to make the transition by sharing the emulsifier producer’s own RSPO transition experience.
Key success factor
Key to a successful transition from PHO- to non-PHO-based baking recipes is access to expertise from the emulsifier manufacturer. Leading manufacturers can typically provide application experts, pilot labs and generic recipes to assist the baking industry, increasing the likelihood of a smooth, cost-effective transition.
To enhance the chances of success with new, market-compliant cake products, contacting an activated emulsifier producer to learn more about these highly effective ingredients is a wise first step for any manufacturer’s PHO-free strategy.
1 Source: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2015.