When a San Francisco lawyer filed a lawsuit against Oreo™ cookies for clogging the arteries of Americans, the first stone in the trans-fatty acid crusade was cast. The latest stone recently was tossed with the release of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).
This government-approved eating plan recommends the limited consumption of foods that contain transfatty acids. Unfortunately for the baking industry, bakery foods lead the charge in trans-fat filled food sources. According to the DGA, cakes, cookies, crackers, pies, bread and other bakery foods contribute 40 percent of the total trans fat consumed by Americans. This staggering figure is forcing bakery operators of every scale to re-evaluate their product lines and determine the best course of action when producing bakery foods laden with this unpopular and unhealthful fat.
Trans fat defined
In the baking industry, trans fats represent a common compound found in a variety of bakery foods. Trans fats are formed when liquid oils are processed into solid fats. This process, commonly called hydrogenation, adds hydrogen to a vegetable oil, thus prolonging a bakery food’s shelf life and stability. However, the process also is responsible for raising low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol, which increases the risk of coronary heart disease.
Trans-fatty acids are found in most bakery foods that use shortening, including pies, cakes, cookies and icings. Although bread is lumped in with other bakery foods in the listing of sources of trans fat, very few of these products contain trans fat.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is enacting trans-fat labeling regulations as a means to encourage food manufacturers to reduce or eliminate the amount of trans-fatty acids in their products. Starting on Jan. 1, 2006, food manufacturers that are required to carry a Nutrition Facts panel on their packaging must label the trans-fat content of their product, immediately under the saturated fat listing. If a product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat, the product may be labeled as having 0 grams of trans fat.
Eliminating trans fat
Shortly after FDA announced its final ruling on trans fats, many in the baking industry questioned the importance of this issue with consumers. However, as the deadline approaches and the trans fat profile continues to grow, many bakeries are beginning to see value in formulating products with reduced or no trans fat. Whole Foods Market, for example, does not sell bakery products that use trans-fat containing hydrogenated oils. Traditional supermarkets, such as Edina, Minn.-based Lund Food Holdings, also are attempting to eliminate trans-fat from its in-store bakery line by the 2006 labeling deadline.
Altering formulas to reduce or eliminate trans fat has become easier as ingredient manufacturers innovate new types of shortening and oil. However, before switching to a reduced or no trans-fat ingredient, bakers must be cautious of what the new fat will bring to the table. Palm oils, for example, can be used to eliminate a bakery foods’ trans fat content, but this alternative oil will increase the saturated fat content of a product, causing bakers to choose from a lesser of two evils.
For bakers unwilling to choose between trans fats and saturated fats, a variety of shortenings and oils exist that combine various types of oils with antioxidants and enzymes. These products have similar texture and melting characteristics as trans-fat filled shortenings and oils.