A. General

A wide variety of products based on edible fats and oils is available to consumers. Shortenings, salad and cooking oils, butter, margarines and tablespreads, mayonnaise, spoonable and pourable salad dressings, and confections are some of the widely available products that are based entirely on fats and oils or contain fat or oil as a principal ingredient. Many of these products also are sold in commercial quantities to food processors, snack food manufacturers, bakeries, restaurants, and institutions.

For statistical reporting purposes, dietary fats are categorized as either “added” or “naturally occurring.” The former are those that are added either (1) at the table: butter and margarine for example or (2) during preparation of a food: shortening or oil added to a cake or cake mix for example, whether added to the mix during in home preparation or at the cake mix plant by the food processor. They account for more than half of dietary fat, the majority of which is derived from vegetable sources (soybean, canola, cottonseed, corn, palm, etc.).

Naturally occurring fats and oils, on the other hand, are found in whole foods like nutmeats, dairy products (other than butter) and meats. Beef, pork, poultry and fish consumption is the source of most naturally occurring dietary fat. Consumption statistics can be found at the Economic Research Service U.S. Department of Agriculture website http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/foodconsumption. The typical fatty acid composition of the principal vegetable oils and animal fats used for food purposes in the U.S. is given in Table IX.

In recent years, a number of trait-enhanced vegetable oils have been commercialized. Their fatty acid compositions have been modified via either traditional selective hybridization or gene insertion techniques. These oils generally tend to be lower in polyunsaturates (e.g. linoleic and linolenic acid) and, depending upon the particular modification, higher in mono-unsaturates (e.g., oleic acid). Trait enhanced oils are designed to deliver two primary objectives: (1) improved nutritional profile and (2) improved oxidative and flavor stability thereby precluding the need for partial hydrogenation. Genetically modified oils of the future will likely have customized fatty acid compositions and triglyceride profiles to meet specific applications.

The ingredient statement of FDA-regulated packaged food products lists the source oils (along with all other ingredients) that are or may be present in the product. All ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance. If a fat or oil is the predominant ingredient of a food product (e.g., salad and cooking oil, shortening, or margarine), the actual source oil(s) used must be shown on the product label. However, for foods in which a fat or oil is not the predominant ingredient (e.g., baked products or snack foods) and for which a manufacturer may wish to substitute one oil for another depending on commodity prices and availability, the manufacturer is permitted to list the alternative oils that may be present.

B. Salad and Cooking Oils

Salad and cooking oils are prepared from vegetable oils that are refined, bleached, deodorized, and sometimes dewaxed or lightly hydrogenated and winterized. Soybean and corn oil are the principal oils sold in this form, although cottonseed, peanut, safflower, sunflower, canola and olive oil also are used. Advanced plant breeding technology, much of which includes biotechnology applications, has resulted in a wide variety of new oils that may be used as salad and cooking oils. These newer oils include high oleic varieties of canola, safflower, soybean and sunflower oils, and mid oleic sunflower oil. Many of these oils are now regularly used for commercial frying or are incorporated into blended fry shortenings.

C. Shortenings (Baking and Frying Fats)

Shortenings are fats used in the preparation of many foods. In the past, lard and other animal fats were the principal edible fats used in shortenings in this country, but during the last third of the nineteenth century they were largely replaced by cottonseed oil, a by-product of the cotton industry. Many types of vegetable oils including soybean, cottonseed, corn, sunflower, and palm can be used in shortening products.

Traditionally, partially hydrogenated oils have been used in the formulation of shortenings and generally two or more stocks have been used to deliver the required performance characteristics including storage stability, creamy consistency over a wide temperature range and the ability to incorporate and hold air. More recently, developments in the fats and oil industry enable shortenings without using partially hydrogenated oils. Higher stability liquid oils and oil blends have grown in use in commercial frying. In addition, shortenings produced using interesterification and fractionation techniques are gaining expanded use in bakery and other food applications. Lard and other animal fats and mixtures of animal and vegetable fats also are used in shortenings.

Fats tenderize (shorten the texture of) baked goods by preventing cohesion of gluten strands during mixing, hence the term shortening. All-purpose shortenings are used primarily for cookies but are also common ingredients in cakes, breads, and icings and are also used for frying applications. The quality of cakes and icings is highly dependent upon aeration; therefore, a variety of very specialized shortenings has been developed over the years to satisfy that demand. High ratio shortenings (containing mono and diglycerides), designed primarily for cakes, began to appear in the ‘30s. Fluid cake shortenings were commercialized in the ‘60s and offer many advantages including pumpability, ease of handling and the option of bulk delivery and storage.

Frying shortenings are specially formulated to stand up to the extreme conditions presented during deep fat frying. To preserve the eating quality of products fried therein, the melting range is carefully controlled. The antifoaming agent, methyl silicone, is added to many frying fats. Fluid products, both clear and opaque, are also available. Fluidity makes for ease in handling and filtration - important criteria when (1) product is handled in container formats (jugs, pails etc. are simply emptied into the fryer) and (2) operator involvement is required for filtration (shortening can be filtered at cooler temperatures).

D. Cocoa Butter and Butterfat Alternatives (Hard Butters)

Cocoa butter is generally characterized by a steep melting profile thereby delivering quick and complete flavor release. The term hard butter describes a collection of specialty fats that are designed to either replace or extend cocoa butter (cocoa butter alternatives) and/or butterfat. They are used primarily in confectionery (coatings, centers, drops) and vegetable dairy applications (coffee whiteners, non-dairy toppings, sour dressings). Cocoa butter alternatives are divided into 3 classifications; cocoa butter substitutes (CBS), cocoa butter replacers (CBR), cocoa butter equivalents (CBE).

Cocoa butter substitutes (CBS) are sourced from lauric fats such as palm kernel and /or coconut oils. These fats may be fractionated, hydrogenated and /or interesterified. CBS products have either zero trans fat or are low in trans fat although high in saturated fat. Due to the high lauric content of the CBS, these fats have essentially no compatibility with cocoa butter and require a low fat cocoa powder for compound chocolate coating formulations.

Cocoa butter replacers (CBR) are another class of alternatives which are sourced from soybean, cottonseed and /or palm oils. The traditional CBRs are hydrogenated and fractionated, thus are high in trans fat (40 to 50%). CBRs do have limited compatibility with cocoa butter so a compound coating incorporating CBR can have up to 25% (of total fat) cocoa butter in that formula.

Both CBS and CBR are non-tempering fats as they spontaneously crystallize in a stable crystal form. The new varieties of CBRs are low in trans fats and are sourced from palm oil which has been either fractionated, interesterified and/or lightly hydrogenated.

Cocoa butter equivalents (CBE) are sourced from fractionated palm oil blended with a hard fraction which is sourced from the either an exotic fats, such as, shea, sal, illipe, kokum or a kokum fraction. Or this hard fraction may also be made from an enzymatically interesterified sunflower or safflower oil. The CBE are chemically & physically identical to cocoa butter and thus require tempering to develop a stable crystal form.

E. Margarine and Spreads

Margarine and spreads are water in oil emulsions prepared by blending an oil phase with an aqueous phase. Oil phases typically contain solid fats or a blend of solid fats and liquid oils, along with fats soluble ingredients such as lecithin, mono- and diglycerides, colorants, flavorings, or other nutrient components, and vitamin A.

The oil phase typically are formulated using a solid component composed either of a non-hydrogenated shortening or, to a lesser extent, a partially hydrogenated stocks, and/or hard fractions of certain fats that are blended with a liquid oil, usually either soybean or canola, to deliver the desired structure and melting properties. Recently, interesterified shortening can be employed in the oil phase to further tailor the final product character.

Aqueous phases typically contain water soluble ingredient such as non fat milk solids, salt, preservatives, and chelating agents. The two phases are mixed to create a homogeneous blend then crystallized in a scraped surface heat exchanger to give a stabile emulsion with desired physical properties such as solid yet spreadable at room temperature.

Margarine is defined by a standards of identity per Code of Federal Regulations1 and must contain at least 80% fat and 15,000 IU units of Vitamin A. Products that contain <80% fat must be named spread by the same federal regulations.

Margarines and spreads are available in stick, tub, liquid, and spray forms for retail markets and in block and bulk tub containers for the food processing industry.

Table X indicates typical ingredients used in spreads and margarines.

F. Butter

Butter must contain not less than 80% by weight of butterfat. The butterfat in the product serves as a plastic matrix enclosing an aqueous phase consisting of water, casein, minerals, and other soluble milk solids. These solids usually constitute about 1% of the weight of the butter. Frequently, salt is added at levels from 1.5-3.0% of the weight of the product. Butter is an important source of vitamin A, and to a lesser extent, of vitamin D.

Typical Ingredients Used in Spreads and Margarines

Fat Soluble

Water Soluble

Emulsifiers (Mono-and Diglycerides)



Preservatives (K Sorbate, Na Benzoate)

Colorant (Beta-Carotene)

Acids (Phosphoric, Citric Acid etc.)


Vitamins (B and C)

Vitamins (A, D, E and K)



Milk, Milk Powder

G. Dressings for Food

Mayonnaise and salad dressing are emulsified, semi-solid fatty foods that by federal regulation must contain not less than 65% and 30% vegetable oil, respectively, and dried whole eggs or egg yolks. Salt, sugar, spices, seasoning, vinegar, lemon juice, and other ingredients complete these products. Pourable and spoonable dressings may be two phase (e.g., vinegar and oil) or the emulsified viscous type (e.g., French). There is a great variety of products available of varying compositions with a wide range in their oil content. Salad oils exclusively are used for dressing products; typical choices include soybean, canola and olive oils.


This publication has reviewed a broad scope of topics including the importance of dietary fat as an essential nutrient and the usage of fats and oils in a variety of food products. Much research continues on the role of dietary fat in relation to health. As a service to the professional communities, the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils, Inc., intends to revise this publication as needed to keep the information as current and useful as possible.

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