Though the United States does not yet have firm guidelines for the amount of DHA or EPA people should consume each week, the public knows enough about omega-3s to know they need to consume more of this important source of fatty acids.
But for bakers, supplementing their products with omega-3 fatty acids from fish sources can still be difficult. Supplements such as oils have traditionally imparted a fishy taste and can spoil easier than omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources, such as walnuts or flax, says Carol Berg-Sloan, a registered dietician. Though omega-3 fatty acids can be added to baked goods wherever fats are used, adding fish oil does tend to leave a fishy taste, she says.
But some recently introduced oils, shortenings and other products seek to change all that. Some are already a part of traditional baked goods and some are elbowing aside walnuts and flaxseed as a good source of omega-3 in baked products.
First, it’s important to note that while omega-3 fatty acids can be found in flax and walnuts, the fatty acids derived from marine sources–either fish or algae–are high in the long-chain omega-3s known as eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid, or EPA and DHA, Berg-Sloan says. These differ from plant-based fatty acids, which contain alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. ALA is a shorter-chain version of EPA and DHA, according to the American Heart Association.
While the body can convert the shorter-chain versions to the longer-chain versions, this happens at a slower pace than consuming the EPA and DHA versions directly, according to the American Heart Association.
To ensure Americans get enough long-chain omega-3s, the AHA recommends they eat two servings of fish per week. The FDA agrees that omega-3 reduces the risk of heart disease and it also recommends fish as the first source for the fatty acids.
Nutrition savvy consumers are heeding this advice, specifically the advice to seek out omega-3 from fish oils.
Oil from Algae
As consumer interest grows, so too does wholesale bakers’ interest in the methods of introducing EPA and DHA to their baked products.
They’ve turned to providers such as Martek Biosciences, which markets a DHA omega-3 oil produced from algae called life’sDHA. Earlier this year, the company introduced a combined DHA and EPA product made from algae and called life’sDHA plus EPA, according to Andrea Martin, manager of brand public relations at the company, Columbia, Md.
“We grow our algae in enclosed FDA-inspected fermentation tanks, which eliminates the worry of ocean-borne contaminates,” Martin says. “The algal oil is then used in foods and beverages and supplements.”
Tortilla maker Mission Foods, Irving, Texas, has used the life’sDHA product in its white and whole wheat Life Balance tortillas since 2008 to provide omega-3, Martin says. Starbucks also includes the product in its apple bran muffin. The ingredient label lists algal oil as the source of the product’s DHA omega-3.
Also, because the oil is produced from algae, baked products made with the product are vegetarian, which can appeal to those who don’t eat food from animal sources.
Eau Plus of London last year introduced what it calls a superfood ingredient made from algae grown in salt-water tanks. The company’s VPURE and OmegaH2O algae oils contain more DHA and EPA omega-3 essential fats than fish oil, says Tom Brudenell Bruce, the company’s chief executive officer.
For his company, the process of turning algae to omega oil involves no chemicals and uses the whole algae to result in a 99 percent pure product, he says, adding that many wholesale bakeries are inquiring about the product.
The fish-derived omega-3 market is moving toward cold-water fish as warm-water fish stocks shrink, Brudenell Bruce says. Cold-water fish contain higher levels of EPA and lower levels of DHA as compared to warm-water fish, he says.
No fishy flavor
In tandem with the move toward algae-derived omega 3 fish oils,
ingredient suppliers also are making available fish-derived omega-3 free of taste and odor, says omega-3-product manufacturer Imperial Oel Import (IOI) of Hamburg, Germany.
“As a result, fortifying foods does not have any negative impact on the sensory profile of the end product,” according to a statement from that company.
The company’s Maris Omega-3 oils, emulsions, and powders add omega 3s to foods, including baked goods. The ingredients are available as natural oil, water-soluble powder and emulsion.
The neutral fish oils–derived from cod and salmon–are made possible thanks to freshly extracted, stabilized and chilled raw ingredients, advanced refining and production technology as well as new food production technologies, according to the statement.
Bakery items lend themselves well to fortification because the omega-3s are evenly distributed throughout the product and because of the products’ short shelf life they’ll be consumed quickly, when omega-3 supplementation with fish-derived substances is of most use, according to IOI.
Kingsmill Head Start Omega-3 bread, made by Allied Milling and Baking, Berkshire, England, uses the Maris Omega-3 product. Two slices of the bread contain EPA and DHA.
Other bakers, like Wegmans Food Markets Inc. of Rochester, N.Y. are old hands at including omega-3 fatty acids from fish sources in baked products. In early 2005, the East Coast supermarket chain launched a line of breads fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. Each slice of the omega-3 bread contains 40 mgs EPA and DHA omega-3 fats and one serving of whole grains.
The company uses a Canadian ingredient manufacturer to convert fish oils into a powdered, microencapsulated form. This process keeps the oils fresh and eliminates fishy tastes, according to a statement from the grocery.
Like Wegmans, many bakers are marketing their omega-3 EPA- and DHA-containing products as a good alternative to fish. “If you’re like most of us, you don’t eat the two servings of fish a week recommended to get enough omega-3 fats. Though essential, omega-3s are easily destroyed by exposure to air. That’s why we bake with an innovative omega-3 powder that is doubly protected. Under a microscope it looks like tiny capsules within other capsules formed to keep the omegas from oxidation,” reads a statement on the Wegmans bread bag.
The baker also discloses that the product contains fish, specifically anchovies and sardines.
Oil and omega
Other food ingredient producers have introduced or plan to introduce oils that can add vital omega-3 to baked products.
Last year, Cargill of Minneapolis introduced its Clear Valley omega-3 oil and shortening, for example, which is a canola-flax oil blend that provides food manufacturers with a method to add a source of the ALA plant-based omega-3 to shelf-stable products without affecting product taste, mouth-feel or shelf life, according Willie Loh, vice president of oils and shortenings business at Cargill.
The oil may allow food manufacturers to make a “good source of ALA omega-3” nutrient content claim with as few as 0.53 grams of fat per serving and an “excellent source of ALA omega-3” nutrient content claim with as few as 1.07 grams of fat per serving in shelf-stable products, without the fishy taste or odor, Loh says.
The oil can be added as a drop-in solution–replacing a product’s current liquid oil–to cookies, energy and granola bars, crackers and muffins. Formulations won’t need to be readjusted, he adds.
Not yet available, but on the horizon, biotechnology firm Monsanto of St. Louis sought U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for its stearidonic acid soybean oil, an omega-3 soybean-oil product, earlier this year. In 2009, the FDA issued a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) notice confirming that the SDA omega-3 soybean oil could be used under the intended conditions of use, according to Monsanto.
“Currently, the only significant source of long-chain, omega-3 fatty acids are fish and algal oils, which are expensive and difficult to incorporate into food products,” according to a Monsanto statement. “The new omega-3 soybean oil would enable food manufacturers to enhance the nutritional benefits of a broad range of food products because of its preferred sensory qualities and functional performance in familiar food and beverage applications.”
According to an April article in the publication Science News, Monsanto has bioengineered soybeans by inserting genes for two enzymes–one derived from a flower, the other from a red bread mold–into a line of soybeans. The two enzymes allow the soybean to contain omega-3 in the form of long-form SDA.
Monsanto states that SDA soybean oil contains 15 to 30 percent SDA and 5 to 8 percent gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), neither of which is present in conventional soybean oil.
SDA soybean oil also contains slightly higher levels of ALA and palmitic acid than conventional soybean oil, according to the statement. It also contains lower levels of oleic acid and linoleic acid than those present in conventional soybean oil.
Monsanto says that the soybean oil can be included in baked products, baking mixes, breakfast cereals, grains, cheeses, dairy product analogs, fats and oils, fish products, frozen dairy desserts and mixes, pastas, gravies and sauces, and processed fruit juices, as well as many other products at levels that will provide 375 mg SDA per serving.
Bakers should keep in mind that consumers can now more readily discern the health benefits seen from fish-derived omega-3 and plant-based omega-3, Martek’s Martin says. While fish-based products have had their drawbacks in the past, bakers should look again at the omega-3s appropriate for baking now hitting the market, she adds.