Tackling Trans Fats
December 4, 2007 By Karen Hall
How the baking industry is responding to the trans fat issue.
The new mandatory labelling of trans fats on nutrition labels in Canada has become a driver for many manufacturers to reformulate their products. Add to that the government’s task force on trans fats (with recommendations expected by the end of the year) and it’s no wonder bakers are looking for alternatives to the partially hydrogenated fats they’ve long used.
According to Jeffrey Fine, director of new products and technology at Aarhus Karlshamn, an oil and fat manufacturer in Port Newark, N.J., the fact that both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada have implemented trans fat labelling (the United States will have mandatory trans labelling as of January) puts “horsepower” behind the no-trans movement.
“It’s not just a whim,” he says. “We will have mandatory labelling, and mandatory labelling has certain consequences. Most manufacturers don’t want to show a high trans level on their products, and consequently they are reformulating them.”
Martino Brambilla, owner of Embassy Flavours Ltd., a food ingredients company specializing in flavours in Brampton, Ont., says more than half of the company’s customers have been asking for trans fat-free products. But he believes there are still people who think the trans fat movement is going to be a fad just like the low-carb craze was.
“And it’s hard to drill into their heads that it is here to stay,” he says. “Everybody got stung with the low-carb … and many people lost money. But hopefully it will sink in that (trans fat-free) is here to stay and that people really do need to look at it because consumers are reading labels a lot more now.”
Lori Jones, R&D scientist at Bunge Canada, a manufacturer of oil products based in Toronto, agrees that a lot of people compare the hype of trans fat-free products today to the low-carb craze.
“But the difference is they weren’t being forced to make any changes (with low-carbs),” she says. “Whereas now there is a change coming to nutritional labelling.”
Bob Wettlaufer, director of retail sales and marketing at Tasty Selections, a manufacturer of frozen bakery products in Concord, Ont., believes there’s a good reason for all the recent hype around trans fats.
“They are a serious health concern for everyone,” he says. “This is not your oat bran fad, your low-carb fad, or your sugar-free fad. This is serious stuff.”
Tasty Selections offers two categories of products: thaw-and-sell pudding cakes (which include four trans fat-free flavours) and frozen muffin batters (which include 22 trans fat-free varieties).
“The customers we have been selling to for years are very happy, and some of them have sort of reshaped or relaunched their muffin program to pick up on all of the trans fat-free interest, hype, and awareness that’s been created,” he says.
Mario Colombo, business manager of the food ingredients division at L.V. Lomas, an ingredient distributor in Brampton, Ont., says it’s important to realize that although a lot of people think you can lower trans fats by just substituting one oil for another, it’s not that simple.
“There are a lot of different things to be concerned about, including mouth-feel, the texture, and the shelf-life,” he says.
Oil manufacturers are using many different processes for creating trans fat-free oils, including blending different oils, and a process called interesterification.
“Interesterification is basically reacting different oils together to move the fatty acids from one chain to another chain,” explains Colombo. “And this can reduce the level of trans fats in a product.”
Other alternatives include different types of starches, cellulose fibre, emulsifiers, and gums.
“Xantham gum, as an example, can create a really nice mouth-feel and help with the water absorption properties that trans fat oils offered initially,” Colombo says. “Something like xantham is not a 100 per cent replacement, but incorporated with other low trans fat oils, emulsifiers, and other components, you can come up with something very close to the original product that had the trans fats.”
Wettlaufer says reformulating products has been a challenge, but with the process and equipment changes the company has put in place, along with the new available fats, the end product results are much closer to those products originally made with trans fats.
“If we put our trans fat-free lemon pudding cake and our old existing lemon pudding cake side-by-side, from an appearance perspective they’re identical,” he says. “Is there a slight difference in the eating characteristics? Perhaps. Somebody with a very sensitive pallet might pick up on that.”
Embassy’s Brambilla says because his company was never a big user of shortening products in its cake mixes, it was a lot easier to go trans fat-free.
“But our biggest dilemma is that … when you go to trans fat-free you’ve got the limitations that you can’t use above a certain level of whole eggs, for example, and you can’t use above a certain level of even canola oil because it has a small amount of trans fats,” he says. “So even those things are limited because if you use over a certain threshold, even they add up to surpass the regulations of being labelled trans fat-free. So you have to be very careful in the ratios of what you use besides just the cake mix.”
When it comes to the cost of these new trans fat-free products and ingredients, Brambilla says in about 80 per cent of cases Embassy has been able to forgo price increases.
“The other 20 per cent might have gone up maybe 10 per cent in price,” he says. “But there was no dramatic difference in price between the trans fat-free version and the regular version. The basic cost to us was the R&D work we had to do behind it.”
Colombo, on the other hand, has found quite the opposite.
“The replacement oils themselves are higher in price because there’s more development behind them, there’s more technology … and raw material costs are higher,” he says. “The cost could be between five and 25 per cent higher, but market dynamics will dictate the prices.”
Along with the low-trans movement has come concern about the level of saturated fats in products.
According to Aarhus’ Fine, although the primary concern is removing trans fats, saturated fats are also an issue for manufacturers looking to make a low-fat claim or who don’t want a high fat content in their products.
“To accommodate this we have a line of products that is specifically designed to deliver low- or no-trans, along with lower saturated fat,” he says.
Bunge Canada, in addition to offering a complete line of all-purpose shortenings, specialty shortenings, and margarine products, has introduced an oil that is non-hydrogenated, low in saturated fat and trans-fat free.
“If you want to put a no-trans claim on something, then you have to control your saturates as well,” Jones says.
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