The global demand to use sustainable ingredients is impacting commercial bakeries, including those that supply consumers with pre-packaged goods as well as those that prepare freshly baked items for supermarkets. 

Foods made with plant-based, clean-label and sustainable ingredients are trending, but the baking industry is only now starting to capitalize on these high-profit opportunities. One sustainable ingredient that is gaining momentum within the baking industry is certified sustainable palm oil because it is so well-suited for enhancing the function and nutrition in bakery applications. 

Naturally non-GMO, Palm oil’s 50/50 ratio of saturated to unsaturated fatty acids make it the only vegetable oil that acts almost like butter. 

Michael Itskovich, founder and director of innovation and R&D for Nikola’s Bakery rediscovered palm shortening while creating a clean-label, allergy-free snack targeting healthy aging consumers. In interviews, he has said, “As with many people in our industry, I had a huge misunderstanding about palm shortening. In the past, I was turned off to the whole idea of palm shortenings because those I’d used had inferior taste and mouthfeel, and were unstable. 

“The quality of Malaysian palm oil shortening opened my eyes to the possibilities. It’s not just a minor difference. This is a world apart! It far exceeded my expectations with respect to performance and functionality. Going forward, we will only use Malaysian palm shortening for anything plant-based or requiring a higher fat content.” 

Whereas milled whole grains lose their vitamin E when exposed to air, palm oil’s high antioxidant content (vitamin E and provitamin A) improves the nutritional content while helping to extend the shelf life of baked goods. 

Master pastry chef and food scientist Oliver Buddrick, Ph.D. has published research on red palm oil in baking, in the Journal of Cereal Chemistry. Buddrick’s research shows that using red palm oil can increase bread’s vitamin E content nearly ten-fold. 

Two slices of bread made without palm oil contains less than half a milligram of vitamin E, yet jumps to nearly 5 mg — one-third of our daily vitamin E requirement — when using the nutrient-dense palm oil. 

In his paper, Buddrick notes tocotrienols’ anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which have shown cardio- and neuro-protective effects. Palm oil is nature’s richest source of tocotrienols.