In 2015, the United States Food and Drug Administration announced it would give food companies three years to eliminate partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) from their products. PHOs are the source of trans fats, which have been linked to heart disease and other ailments.

As the 2018 deadline nears, companies that supply instore delis and bakeries are continuing their efforts to convert customers to non-PHO alternatives like palm oil, canola oil and soy.

Stratas Foods, LLC continues to work on the optimum applications for all bakery applications through its own ongoing and extensive research. 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, according to Stratas.

Golden Flex is a new line of zero trans shortenings made with high oleic soybean oil and the Flex technology. These shortenings deliver PHO functionality without the trans fat. These new products offer current palm users the opportunity to raise their performance back to what they enjoyed with PHO shortenings. Golden Flex is available for all-purpose, cake and icing and donut frying applications.

“Golden Flex offers PHO utility without the PHO,” says 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’ functional crystallization with an expanded and more resilient fatty acid platform. Golden Flex achieved this major step with a soybean oil, rather than a palm oil based system.”  

Stratas offers more PHO-free solutions beyond Golden Flex. Soy Flex is a domestic shortening (made from oilseed grown in the United States) that offers a creamier, more consistent texture with a wider temperature range. It contains no tropical oils and delivers the functionality benefits of a soybean shortening. Soy Flex is available for all-purpose, icing, cake and donut frying applications.

Palm Flex shortenings are creamier, smoother, more consistent from cube to cube, and work over a wider temperature range than typical palm shortenings. Palm Flex shortenings are available for all-purpose, cake, icing, margarine, and donut frying applications.

Customers of Lenexa, Kansas-based Corbion are well underway in the process of converting to non-PHO, says Jim Robertson, senior product manager for emulsifiers — if they haven’t already done so.  

Corbion was 100% PHO-free by the end of 2016, Robertson says. “It’s allowed us the ability to focus more on the needs of our customers and work side by side with them to simplify their overall reformulation efforts and minimize reformulation hurdles and operational disruptions.”

That will help ensure customers have what they need to maintain functionality, preserve product handling and sustain quality attributes that they’ve come to expect, Robertson says. 

The canola alternative

Lethbridge, Alberta-based Richardson Oilseed Limited, a division of Richardson International, hasn’t made products containing PHOs in eight or nine years, says  Steven Robbins, Richardson Oilseed’s product development manager.

That’s given the company ample time to develop canola oil-based products for instore bakeries and other applications that offer viable options for operators looking to make the switch away from PHOs. “We already have a good product line, and (the upcoming FDA deadline) is a good opportunity for us to get our products out there.”

Richardson Oilseed’s oils, shortenings and margarines can help make what is often a difficult transition from PHOs a little more easier, Robbins says. “When you’re going to PHO-free, it’s not always an easy thing to do. Substitutes don’t always work.”

Take frying shortenings for donuts, Robbins says. Switching from PHOs to PHO-free alternatives can affect sensory profiles and mouth feel in “significant ways,” he says. “Most substitutes have a high percentage of palm oil. Palm oil tastes a lot different and it has a pasty and sticky texture.”

Richardson Oilseed’s donut shortening has some palm oil in it, but it has significantly more canola oil, which makes a big difference, Robbins says. “It has a much cleaner flavor and mouth feel, and the oil absorption is better.”

Similarly, the company’s canola-based icing shortenings make for tastier icings than do their palm-based counterparts, Robbins says.

But canola’s benefits extend far beyond taste, he says. “Canola is a very healthy oil, it’s very functional and it has relatively high stability and nutritional qualities.”

Richardson Oilseed is still getting some of its industrial clients up to speed in time for the FDA ban on PHOs, but for the most part its sales and marketing efforts are focused on instore and mom-and-pop bakeries. “That’s our key customer base and where we see the most opportunity for growth,” Robbins says. 

As the PHO ban has neared, Richardson Oilseed has had to add tanks, piping and other infrastructure to meet the rising demand for PHO-free products more efficiently, Robbins says. “The manufacturing process of taking (PHO-free oils) from a hot to a solid stage is a little different.”

Drop-in solutions

The momentum to transition to PHO-free shortenings continues to build, as leading restaurant chains like Panera Bread and Dunkin’ Donuts, as well as national supermarket operations, pledge commitments to clean label products made without trans fats. 

Mitch Riavez, a certified master baker and national account manager for Stratas Foods, explains that bakers seeking drop-in solutions, particularly for icings and laminated doughs, can find it with Golden Flex.

Riavez explains the benefits of converting now in sheer economics. Every dollar more a baker spends on shortening equates to one penny in added food cost. Add that to being able to transition successfully to non-PHO shortenings without having to reformulate your products, he says, and the benefits are obvious. 

“If you sold every cake for 50 cents more, you’d pay for your shortening,” he says. “To me, as a baker, I’ll spend that extra money every day because it works. Bakers shouldn’t make their money by buying in the back door. They should make their money by selling in front.”

Another benefit relates to the final product. Riavez explains that more air and more water get into the shortening quicker when using high-oleic soybean oil. So what does that actually mean for the baker? “You ice more cakes per case,” he says.

PHO-free foodservice options

Foodservice operations can capitalize on new options from Stratas Foods to enhance their menus with PHO-free options that are sure to appeal to today’s consumers. Stratas Foods, which completed its purchase of Supreme Oil Company in October 2016, used the recent 2017 National Restaurant Association as the stage to demonstrate a new cake recipe, along with a garlic veggie dip.

Stratas Foods is recognized as a leading supplier of fats and oils to the foodservice, food ingredients and retail private label markets in North America. With the acquisition of Supreme Oil, Stratas added to its product mix a variety of additional oils and shortening brands, along with mayonnaise, dressings and condiments.

Stratas conducted a product demo of a cake recipe prepared with its Sweetex Golden Flex Cake and Icing Shortening and Admiration Mayonnaise. Golden Flex is a non-partially hydrogenated soybean shortening line using Stratas’ proprietary Flex crystallization technology. Admiration Mayonnaise is a favorite of restaurant chefs for its flavor and performance.