In light of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) final rule in determining that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are not “generally recognized as safe” for use in human food, bakers have until June 2018 to reformulate bakery products without PHOs.

During an educational session at the Atlantic Bakery Expo, Mitch Riavez, a certified master baker (CMB) and national account manager for Stratas Foods, provided a valuable framework for how bakers can respond to this critical challenge.

“It behooves you to start now,” Riavez says, explaining that shortening suppliers and bakery distributors will act well in advance of the deadline. “Try and stay ahead of the curve.”

Already, Stratas Foods has introduced a number of PHO-free shortening solutions, with more to come. For bakers, Riavez points out, there are essentially two paths to follow: palm and interesterified. Stratas has both options covered.

Palm shortenings represent a viable PHO-free option for several reasons. Palm oil has natural characteristics similar to partially hydrogenated oils like good creaming properties, and pricing is similar to soybean oil because of abundant supply. Pros of palm oil include it’s solid at room temperature, contains no trans fat and is Kosher. The cons are it is high in saturates and presents flavor issues for bakers and darker colors.

A number of bakers say that products made with palm shortenings don’t taste the same as before and icings are not as white. Palm is also not as tolerant to temperature changes; in storage, it can get hard in the winter and soft in the summer.

Interesterification presents bakers with another option to eliminate PHOs. Enzymatic interesterification (EIE) is the catalytic reaction that occurs when an enzyme is introduced into the oil and rearranges the fatty acids, Riavez explains. The rearrangement provides structure and functionality to the triglycerides at room temperature.

The EIE process adjusts the melting properties and improves the crystallization properties. Thus, the functionality and plasticity in the shortenings is enhanced.

Stratas offers Flex technology, which creates either palm or soy based shortenings that function more like partially hydrogenated shortening. Flex involves a process called functional crystallization, which makes sure the least amount of crystals as possible are formed to keep a product together.

Flex processed trans-fat free shortenings offer smooth and creamy pliable consistency that rival PHO based products from the past. They are easier to work with throughout the process of creating cakes and icings, and deliver a whiter appearance due to smaller average crystal particle distribution.

Flex shortenings offer a wider working functional range based on product temperature, more consistent texture from cube-to-cube and lot-to-lot and desirable textural properties maintained over a longer portion of the declared shelf life.

The Flex line includes Sweetex Flex, BBS Flex, Buckeye Flex zero-trans margarine, and Golden Flex, a new line of zero-trans shortenings made with high oleic soybean oil and the flex technology.

Riavez says that bakers who are seeking drop-in solutions, particularly for icings and laminated doughs, can find it with Golden Flex. “Golden Flex means its high oleic soybean oil and it’s not palm. High oleic is a specific soybean that is high in good fat and low in bad fat.”