Due to its unique lipid composition allowing it to be solid at room temperature and its low production costs, palm-based shortening has become a major functional fat source across the food industry. Its use is particularly prevalent in the bakery sector where it is used for its functional (texturising, shortening, foam stabilisation, mouthfeel) properties, in addition to cost-effectiveness. However, due to the devastating environmental impact of palm over-cultivation, the industry is looking for sustainable alternatives. Whilst certification strategies on sustainable palm such as RSPO have been introduced and made some impact on the sustainability levels of palm harvest action, palm oil remains an unsustainable source of fat in Europe due to transglobal transportation from harvest to users. In addition, these strategies do not address the nutritional impact of palm oil which has very high levels of saturated fat. Therefore there was a need to create the first palm alternative that was at the same time functional, sustainable and nutritionally superior.
The project sought to use a liquid low saturated oil and add functional ingredients to emulsify the oil into a novel blend which would mimic the properties of palm shortening in baked goods.
Researchers at Queen Margaret University’s Scottish Centre for Food Development & Innovation secured funding from Innovate UK Sustainable Innovation Fund to develop a novel palm alternative which addressed:-
- UK/European sourcing of ingredients
- Functionality in baked goods, with comparable sensorial properties in use
- Clean label, and using only plant-based ingredients
- Nutritionally superiority versus palm
The project ran from April 2021 to May 2022, and the outcome ingredient is patent pending.
The scope of the research covered a number of phases
Understanding the Brief of Project Partners
Interpreting the needs of the end users of palm shortening was essential and industrial recipes and methodologies of finished products were sourced from the project partners. The many functional properties of palm shortening were identified and taken into consideration. In addition, products with high usage of palm shortening were prioritised to allow maximum impact of the project.
Ingredient Assessment & Functionality
A wide variety of potential ingredients were investigated as part of the sourcing phase of the project, with each ingredient contributing to the emulsification of rapeseed oil.
Critical factors were functionality, organoleptic profile, sustainability and nutritional profile. Ingredients from across the globe were investigated but with a desire for as close a geographical location to the UK as possible.
Technical characterisation of the individual ingredients was undertaken using the SCFDI’s onsite specialist equipment to assess functionality, with particular emphasis on emulsification properties.
Using laboratory scale equipment, it was possible to prepare prototype samples of the novel ingredient, and assess this both as an ingredient and when used in baked food applications. Generic bakery recipes were used, in addition to partner company recipes.
All ingredients and formulations were assessed nutritionally, in order to achieve the optimal balance of functionality and nutritional benefit when compared with palm shortening.
The novel ingredient was utilised in finished baked applications and assessed using a trained sensory panel to profile sensorial properties. In all applications, the novel ingredient was compared with both palm shortening and pure rapeseed oil containing products.
Baked Food Applications
Control recipes were established with which to compare the prototype novel ingredients. For each test it was decided to compare with two controls (one containing palm shortening, and one containing pure rapeseed oil). Applications tested were:-
- Soft cookies
- Shortcake biscuits
- White bread
Samples using optimised novel ingredient were assessed for both functional and sensorial qualities. Products were assessed both from development kitchen and from pilot plant batches.
In addition, the team were able to utilise the range of onsite technical analysis equipment to assess both the novel ingredient and finished products, including (but not limited to)
- Microscopy (to assess the emulsion stability)
- Rheometry and viscometry
- Texture analysis
- Water activity (to assist with comparable shelf life assessment)
The novel ingredient was initially tested in the development kitchen, then scaled up to industrial pilot plant scale. Several co-manufacturers were involved with scale up testing, with the optimal equipment and methodology being identified by the QMU team. A novel methodology was essential to create the optimal finished product, that met all the requirements of the brief.
Life Cycle Analysis
A Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) was undertaken as part of this project, which quantified the impact of replacing palm oil with the novel palm alternative. Full details available on request.
The project was successful in creating a unique and novel palm shortening alternative which met the requirements of sustainability, functionality, nutritional superiority, clean labelling and plant based sourcing
Following completion of life cycle analysis (LCA), the finished product was identified as superior to palm oil, and outlined a two thirds reduction in carbon emissions per kilogram. All ingredients are sustainably sourced from the UK and Europe.
Successful trialling of the ingredient in finished applications resulted in comparable results to palm oil, and superior results to pure rapeseed oil in sensorial review. The ingredient, which required refrigeration unlike the palm shortening control, produced finished applications which were deemed of no significant difference by the trained sensory panel. Pure rapeseed oil applications were found to be significantly inferior to the palm shortening control.
The novel palm alternative was assessed nutritionally against palm shortening and found to have the following benefits:-
- 25% reduction in total fat
- 88% reduction in saturated fat
It is anticipated that use of the novel palm alternative will assist industrial users to reduce total and saturated fat content of their finished products.
Clean labelling and Plant Based
All ingredients utilised in the formulation of this novel palm alternative are clean label ingredients, free from E numbers, and are 100% plant based. The ingredient listing is short, containing only three sustainably sourced ingredients plus water.
Providing a sustainable, ethical alternative to palm shortening with wide use across the UK bakery industry could have significant benefits to consumers. Consumer knowledge of deforestation and the environmental impact of palm oil production is at its highest level and could be a key driver in encouraging manufactures to find a viable alternative. The novel ingredient created by this project has been extensively tested in both development kitchen and pilot scale, and seeks to move to the next stage of commercial production.
Initiatives to improve the nutritional profile of the products consumed in the UK has been high on the government agenda for some time, with particular emphasis in reducing consumption of high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) products. Bakery products are historically high in total and saturated fat, and utilisation of this ingredient may assist with reformulation targets to improve their nutritional profile. It may be possible also to extend the use of this novel palm alternative to other non bakery applications.
For more information on this project please contact PalmAlt@qmu.ac.uk