AAK USA talks sat fats, aquafaba, and plant-based trends as it opens innovation center in Louisville, KY

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

AAK USA talks sat fats, aquafaba, and plant-based trends as it opens innovation center in Louisville, KY

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There has been a notable increase in demand for coconut, sunflower and safflower oil, coupled with increased interest in Non-GMO and organic options in the fats and oils arena, say experts at value added vegetable oils specialist AAK USA.

Speaking at the official launch of a new bakery innovation center in Louisville, KY (which comes hot on the heels of AAK’s AAKtion Lab in Edison, New Jersey,​ and will be followed later this year by a third innovation center in Richmond CA), innovation manager Chris Bohm told FoodNavigator-USA:

Customers are asking for sustainable and unique vegetable fats and oils that can be used in place of animal fats.”

He added: “There has been a definite upswing in coconut, sunflower and safflower in different formats as well as an increased interest in Non-GMO and organic oils with clean label natural additives to maintain stability over shelf life​.”

Saturated fat reduction... a nice to have or a must have?

While trend-watchers argue that fat is very much ‘back’ (as sugar has assumed the role of nutritional bogeyman), fat contains more calories than protein or carbs, and bakers are still seeking innovative ways to reduce calories without compromising quality, added Bohm.

We have innovation projects focused at novel ways to reduce the total caloric content in baked goods without negatively impacting quality."

When it comes to saturated fat, meanwhile (levels of which are high in coconut oil, for example) customers are paying a little less attention to it than they perhaps were in the past, he added:

The focus does seem to have shifted to saturated fat reduction being a nice to have ​[rather than a must-have] while still maintaining the same functionality, processing, and eating experience.”

Aquafaba has ‘excellent emulsification properties’

Some of the most interesting growth opportunities for AAK right now are in plant-based dairy alternatives, which often deploy a combination of oils, gums, starches, and nuts, oilseeds or legumes, but can fail to live up to expectations when it comes to taste and texture, claimed Terry Thomas, President of AAK USA, Inc.

The new customer innovation center in Richmond, CA - due to open in the summer - will help customers formulate a wide range of products in this space including ​non dairy creamers, plant-based beverages, and frozen desserts, he added.

Asked whether AAK had experimented with trending ingredient aquafaba​ (the viscous liquid left over after you cook chickpeas) as an emulsifier in buttery spreads or other products (as showcased by start-up FORA at the fancy food show last week) Dr. Vineet Jindal, global customer innovation manager, plant-based dairy, said it was definitely an ingredient worth watching.

“We have evaluated aquafaba in mayonnaise type products.  It has great potential to replace eggs in plant-based mayonnaise​ [such as Sir Kensington’s Fabanaise].  It has excellent emulsification properties and is clean label.

"This ingredient has great potential, but is a complex food system that warrants additional research.  Availability and supply chain issues still need to be resolved as well.”

Partially hydrogenated oil replacement 2.0

Right now, many customers are focused on removing partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) as the FDA’s June 2018 deadline​ approaches, said Thomas, who said AAK is working with some clients that have been late to the game and are addressing the PHO replacement issue for the first time, but is primarily working with early adopters who replaced PHOs a long time ago, but are now looking for better solutions.

AAK Louisville close up

“A lot of players jumped in early and they are finding limitations around the solutions they first went with,"​ he explained. "The mouth-feel isn't quite right, the meltaway, the plasticity, and then there are handling challenges as well..."

As for interesterified fully​ hydrogenated oils, which do not create harmful trans-fats (unlike partially hydrogenated oils), and could replace PHOs in many applications, some manufacturers remain reluctant to use them because consumers have been taught that anything with the word ‘hydrogenated’ in it is bad news, said Dr Jindal.

“New startup companies working on clean label foods and plant based foods prefer to avoid hydrogenated fats.  Established manufacturers are more open to fully hydrogenated fats.”

State of the art facilities

The new customer innovation center in Louisville - which houses a state-of-the-art bakery lab, pilot plant and analytical lab operated by an expanded team of customer innovation experts - would enable customers to solve reformulation challenges with AAK’s experts and co-develop new products, said VP sales & marketing Mark Becker.

“For the bakery lab we worked with a few of our customers to find out what equipment they were using so we could match. It basically allows us to screen products in the customer's actual application. Think how powerful that is. We're no longer showcasing just an ingredient, we're showcasing and proving out a concept in a customer specific application. It allows them to find the best solution before they go onto pilot or production runs at their facilities."

The new center features:

  • A bakery lab​–For rapid development and testing of new product solutions to ensure functionality before plant trials and production. The current application focus includes biscuits, cakes, cookies, fillings, icings and toppings, frozen doughs, laminated products, pastries, pizzas and flatbreads, release agents and yeast-raised doughs.
  • A pilot plant​– Designed to support the bakery segment with pilot scale samples of new fats and oils products for customer applications testing and development.  
  • An analytical lab​–Featuring benchtop scale fats and oils equipment and testing for new product development.   

Based in Malmö, Sweden, vegetable fats and oils specialist AAK has 20 production and customization facilities and 3,000+ employees around the world, of which just over 500 are based in the US, where it operates manufacturing plants in New Jersey, Kentucky, and California. 

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