Shortening is a functional ingredient that has been widely used in the baking industry. Partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the core ingredient that was used to manufacture shortening, is banned by the FDA from food use. They are likely replaced by butter or tropical oils (palm oil and coconut oil). Certainly, the replacement of PHOs by palm or coconut oil is not a promising means since both oils contain extremely high amounts of saturated fatty acids. As a matter of fact, food manufacturers and scientists are seeking for alternative approaches that can replace PHOs and produce shortening that can mimic the physical properties of PHOs-based shortening while maintaining the balanced fatty acid profile.
The Food Science Research program led by Dr. Bingcan Chen at NDSU is trying to transform liquid corn oil into a semi-solid structure called oleogels using food grade gelling agents. The long term goal of this group is to minimize the amount of gelling agents in fabricating corn oil oleogels with great performance. The newly developed corn oil oleogel is anticipated to possess solid-like properties similar to PHOs and can be used in the baking industry. The utilization of corn oil oleogel in the baking industry is considered a significant advantage contributing to the decrease of saturated fat in the diet since they contain high amounts of unsaturated fatty acids and low amounts of saturated fatty acids.
The physical property of fabricated oleogels, including thermal behavior, viscoelastic properties, and crystalline is the key to determine the quality of finished baking products. Under the support of the North Dakota Corn Utilization Council, Dr. Chen’s group has been investigating the impact of gelling agents and gelling process on the physical properties of corn oil oleogels. After optimizing the gelling process and gelling agents, corn oil oleogel will be applied to prepare cookies and the quality of which will be compared with the one made by the commercial shortenings. The results will again be used to guide the design of corn oil oleogels. The success of structuring liquid corn oil to plastic-like properties similar to commercial vegetable shortenings will expand the utilization of corn oil in the food industry.