Using starches, vegetable waxes and emulsions, Cargill scientists have created fat systems that lower saturated fat by as much as 40 percent in shortenings, without compromising finished product attributes. Cargill researchers presented the three novel approaches to reducing saturated fat in bakery applications this week during the American Oil Chemists' Society annual meeting.
"This research demonstrates a significant leap forward in our understanding of the structure and function of fats throughout the bakery process," said Serpil Metin, principal scientist, Cargill. "With that knowledge, we are working to unlock new low-fat and reduced-saturated-fat solutions that meet the needs of bakeries and help address the health concerns of consumers."
The need for alternatives is clear. The recently released 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consumers limit saturated fat consumption to less than 10 percent of daily calories. Historically, many foods relied on solid fat, either in the form of trans fat or saturated fat, for structure and stability.
Food companies have significantly eliminated trans fats, relegating structuring capacity almost exclusively to saturated fats. Yet health concerns also surround saturated fats, sparking widespread interest in developing alternate structuring elements. Developing and commercializing reduced-saturated-fat shortenings that deliver the right combination of functionality, cost and label-friendly ingredients has proven difficult.
Before tackling the challenge of reducing saturated fat levels in bakery shortenings, Cargill researchers gained a comprehensive understanding of how fat behaves at a molecular level. They analyzed its structure at each stage of the production process, from mixing to the end of a product's shelf life. Then, they created bakery models to predict the specific application performance of each reduced-saturated-fat alternative. In the end, the researchers landed on three promising approaches to lower saturated fat levels.
In one method, Cargill researchers replaced some of the traditional saturated fat with a blend of canola oil, a product lower in saturated fat, and starch. Using particle stabilization technology combined with fat crystal optimization, the researchers created a structured fat system that reduced saturated fat levels by 40 percent compared to the same source fat without sacrificing key performance characteristics. In addition, depending on the reduced-saturated-fat levels, the resulting functional bakery shortenings had fewer total fat and calories.
In a separate study, Cargill researchers focused on controlling how fat solidifies. As fat cools, it forms crystals. The researchers found that by combining vegetable waxes and monoglycerides with canola oil and palm stearin, they could influence the size, shape and speed at which those crystals form. The resulting fat system lowered saturated fat levels, while maintaining critical fat structures.
A final approach explored using emulsions to dilute saturated fat levels. While water and fat naturally separate, Cargill researchers devised a method of encasing water droplets in shells made of monoglycerides and hard fats.
The Cargill teams found positive results with each approach to reducing saturated fats. The researchers were able to create fat systems that reduced saturated fat levels by 40 percent, yet still provided performance comparable, and in some cases superior, to that of commercial shortenings.
In other research presentations at the AOCS meeting, company scientists proposed new methods to analyze wax esters in vegetable oils and to measure oxidation in oils as well as an oxidation model for predicting oxidative stability of oil blends. For the food industry, this research offers additional tools to aid in formulating healthier consumer products.
"We continue to invest in industry-leading research with a goal of developing healthier fats and oils without compromising the flavor, texture, shelf life or consistency of the end products," said Bob Wainwright, innovation lead, Cargill. "While we're still several years away from introducing commercial products based on this research, each of these approaches offers a promising avenue toward achieving high performance, lower saturated fat bakery products."