Trans-fat debates began in the 1990s. Stratas Foods began working toward the optimal solution in 2003, at a time when the debate was in the full discussion and before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instituted the requirement to label trans fats on the nutrition facts panel in 2006.
Then in 2015, the FDA mandated that food manufacturers have three years to remove partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) from products. That mandate was not a surprise. In fact, the oil industry was already well into the development of a series of new zero trans-fat oil and shortening products. The goal is to develop oils and shortenings that withstand the demands of the manufacturing process while retaining flavor, functionality and consistency.
The pie crust industry has struggled to find a drop-in solution to replace PHO products over the decades. To understand the difficulties, it helps to start with a look at the critical basics of how pie crust is made:
• Cutting shortening into flour, encasing pockets of flour inside a shell of fat
• Adding water to moisten the flour whereupon gluten—the network of proteins that lend structure to baked goods—is formed
• Rolling this dough out, these pockets of fat stretch and stretch, eventually forming sheet of fat that separate sheets of gluten-enforced flour
• As the pastry bakes, the fatty layers melt, allowing the floury layers to separate from each other, solidify, and form the layers you see in a great pie crust.
Replacing trans fats in the pie industry disrupts this process in terms of stability, performance and higher costs.
Why has it been so hard for the baking industry to replace trans fats in shortenings? There are a few reasons.
Trans fats, which are more resistant to oxidation, have a broad plasticity range and have been typically cheaper to process compared to the first rounds of drop-in substitutes.
The first few rounds of non-PHO replacements led to common challenges; pie defects like crust shrinkage, fried crust, lack of flakiness and blistering on the top. Crust shrinkage is typically caused by either insufficient shortening or the wrong type of shortening. The wrong type of shortening can also lead to tough crust, a crust that isn’t flaky or even a soggy crust – none of which pie makers want to encounter.
Where does the industry stand now on a PHO replacement for pie shortenings?
The next generation solution comes from the research labs of Stratas Foods. It is the first solution that offers both a formula change and a process change.
“Golden Flex offers PHO utility without the PHO,” said Roger Daniels, vice president of research, development and innovation at Stratas Foods. “This innovation moves the needle in terms of consistency, stability, firmness, and performance by leveraging, for the first time, the marriage of Stratas’ proprietary functional crystallization with an expanded and more resilient fatty acid platform. Moreover, Golden Flex achieves this major step with a soybean oil, rather than a palm oil based product.”
This unique combination allows for the benefits of uniform, proper crystal shape and size needed for delivering a drop-in replacement for PHO.
“Golden Flex is a really unique product. The industry has offered formulaic changes to provide non-PHO options, but the Flex processing technology that was designed in our labs at Stratas together with an enhanced and more stable fatty acid platform, is unprecedented and potentially a game changer,” said Daniels.
As part of its commercialization validation, Stratas has been introducing Golden Flex to a mix of clients for trial and testing, where it has been received with very positive reviews. Some major bakers participating in early beta testing have even found it to outperform their former PHO products.