Bellies bulging over waistbands have become a common sight on our streets. With intakes of saturated fat in UK diets around 20% higher than official government recommendations, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has launched its saturated fat and energy intake programme. This focuses on how industry, supported by FSA consumer awareness activity, can help reduce the population's intake of saturated fat from 13.3% to below 11% of food energy. As major users of saturated fat, bakers and confectioners are bravely attempting to meet the FSA's demands, but there is much debate about the best way forward.
Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and provide stability for bakery and confectionery products. The main challenge for manufacturers is how far they can reduce the saturated fat content of a product, while retaining its structure, claims fat and oils consultant Geoff Talbot.
There are basically two fats: liquid oils, such as rapeseed, and solid fats, such as palm oil, says Jo Bruce, research and development manager of oils and fats at ADM. "You can use fractionation to melt the solid oil, stir it and cool it until the bits of solid fat crystallise and separate from liquid and then you can filter out the liquid. By mixing harder fats you can reduce the fat level, but still have a functional product."
Another option is to increase the liquid oil concentration to reduce the saturated fat, she says. This disperses more, so less is needed to get the fatty feel. However, if you increase the liquid oil too much, you'll decrease the functionality of the fat, notes Bruce. "This can lead to the added problem of fat oozing out of the biscuit," claims Talbot. "If you don't have enough fat you get a hard, flinty texture; go the other way and it's greasy, or with a chocolate biscuit, the fat seeps into the chocolate."
Every application has its challenges and some are more difficult than others, claims speciality fats and oils supplier Aarhuskarlshamn's new product development (NPD) manager Adam Thomas. "Chocolate is a bit of a disaster regarding saturated fat reduction because its composition is governed by legislation."
The 2003 European legislation doesn't leave a lot of room for leverage, agrees Talbot. "UK chocolate is 20% saturated fat on average. You might get it down to 18%, even 16 or 17, but it would be a hard process. And once you get it lower than 16%, it's outside the legislation." However, that's not to say it's impossible to reduce saturated fat in chocolate, he says. "There are options, but more research is needed." Talbot claims that there's a lot of research being done in clinical nutrition. "Some implies that the longer the chain of saturated fatty acids, the less detrimental they are," he says. "But it's not just a case of ticking the boxes. There's a lack of technology and this isn't an easy thing to crack."
Puff pastry is another tricky customer with saturated fat reduction. "Bakery products tend to have an aerated structure, so you need solid fat to stabilise the gas bubbles to give the texture associated with these products," says Talbot. "You also need to spread fat throughout the mix to integrate the flour particles, otherwise you get a gluten network forming, which results in a chewy product."
"Laminating margarine is needed to make puff pastry," says José Mastenbroek, new business developer at DSM Food Specialties. "If you remove it, the product will be too soft as the layers won't separate. We've been working in partnership with a margarine manufacturer to come up with a solution for laminated products for the last year and we're due to pre-launch later this year."
ADM also has a solution for enabling puff pastry to reduce its saturated fat content in the form of Nova Lipid - a pastry product that provides 10% less fat than standard pastry margarines. "You might say: 'Why don't you just use less fat?' but you wouldn't get as much puff and you'd also get a dry eat," says Bruce.
In doughs with short fermenting times, such as puff pastries, another way of adding moisture while reducing saturated fat content is by using inulin and oligofructose (both made from chains of glucose and fructose). "Traditionally, inulin can replace fat as a whole - including saturated fat - in food matrices where there is also water or some kind of moisture," says Beneo-Orafti marketing and communications manager Tim Van der Schraelen. "If you heavily stir inulin with water, you have a texture similar to fat." He claims that this approach can have good results with croissants or brioches, although he admits that "we don't always hit bullseye first time"
There's no doubt that reformulation is time-consuming and Thomas fears that this could cause problems. "It could be difficult to meet the FSA's saturated fat targets on time. You're looking at six months to develop a product and assessing its shelf-life can take another nine to 12 months. I'll be recommending a step-wise approach to reducing saturated fats, because consumers will notice if you try to change too much in one go," he says. "I'm hoping the FSA will take a realistic approach to this and be tolerant with certain areas."
Mastenbroek also has concerns. "The FSA was relatively successful in taking out trans fats, but that was relatively easy compared to this," she says. Talbot explains: "In some instances, hydrogenated fat was replaced with saturated fat and so now it is particularly difficult to remove the saturated fat."
Ironically, much saturated fat could actually be replaced by the latest hydrogenated fats, which are low in trans fats, but this is not possible due to consumer acceptance, says bakery ingredients supplier British Bakels.
"The issue here is that retailers' brand standards forbid the use of these products and so the industry is potentially going to be put in a difficult position," says Bakels' head of product development Gary Gibbs. "Retailers are understandably responding to consumers saying that hydrogenated fats are bad, but not all hydrogenated fats have the bad trans fats in them and that is the message that can be confusing for consumers. Because this is difficult to get across, the retailers have removed all hydrogenated fats."
A lack of motivation could also act as a barrier to reducing saturated fat, claims Bruce. "The factor that will limit the saturated fat and energy reductions is labelling," she claims. "At the moment you can't say on-pack: 'I've reduced saturated fat by 20%', you can only make a claim if you've reduced it by 30%, which is very difficult to achieve."
However, she warns that the time is ripe for reformulation as the FSA will shortly begin a campaign to raise consumer awareness of saturated fat. "Processors need to start looking at this area now because, come the end of the year, consumers will be talking about it." FM
- Aarhuskarlshamn 01482 701271
- ADM 0151 424 2513
- Beneo-Orafti 00 32 16 801 301
- British Bakels 01869 322440
- DSM Food Specialties 00 31 15 279 4001
- Geoff Talbot 07850 605719