Oils and Fats: Applications

Oils and Fats: Applications

This entry is a continuation of the first one dedicated to oils and fats, where we discussed basic aspects of these ingredients.

In this entry, we will provide some indications about the advantages (and disadvantages) of using oils or fats in baking and pastry, and what type might be more suitable for each application. It is essential to consider that cultural aspects, traditions, and availability also influence the use of fats and oils. In some countries, the use of animal or vegetable fats for cooking is more common, while in others, liquid oils are preferred. Additionally, the choice of specific oils varies, with sunflower or olive oils being more common in some countries, and soy, corn, or rapeseed oils in others.

In Spain, there is a stronger tradition of using vegetable oils, particularly sunflower or olive oil, which has translated into their widespread use in baked products. The Spanish palate is accustomed to the final products made with these oils, a preference that may seem unusual in other countries. Fortunately, sunflower oils and especially olive oil are composed of lipids with better nutritional quality or health benefits than other fats, especially those of animal origin or fats that are more solid and rich in saturated fatty acids. However, certain preparations, like puff pastries, require the use of fats with a higher melting point.


While the use of fats or oils is not common in the most consumed breads in Spain, they are utilized in some preparations. Oils are commonly used in the production of sandwich bread or specialties such as focaccias. By examining these breads, we can understand the functionality and advantages of using oils (or fats) in bread making. However, it’s important to note that these benefits are achieved with low quantities of oils or fats, usually not exceeding 5-6%. If the percentage is higher, as in some brioches or rolls, fats introduce new challenges that we will discuss. With low percentages of fat or oil, more extensible doughs are achieved, making them suitable for products that need to be stretched, such as pizza or puff pastry dough. There is also increased resistance to over-kneading, which is crucial in processes with rapid kneading. Additionally, there is greater expansion in the oven, partly because it delays the gelatinization of starch, the point at which expansion stops. The final product is characterized by a finer and more regular crumb structure, making it easier to slice without breaking or crumbling. The crumb is also juicier and softer in the mouth. Lastly, breads made with oils have better shelf life, as staling phenomena, such as starch retrogradation, are reduced. On the downside, the fat modifies the rheology of the doughs, and somewhat stronger flours are usually required. As the level of oil or fat increases, the creation of a crispy crust decreases, changing the type of bread being produced.

In recent times, some whole grain breads with oil have appeared in the market. Due to changes in regulations (at least in Spain), where all the flour used must be whole grain to label the bread as such, these breads can turn out very dry. By incorporating oil, we can add juiciness to the product, albeit at the expense of some crispiness in the crust.

When fats or oils are incorporated in larger quantities, many advantages discussed earlier can still be obtained, but the doughs become excessively soft and weak. These changes may necessitate adjustments in the formulation, such as reducing dough hydration to provide consistency and increasing kneading times. It might also be necessary to use very strong flour and assist in increasing strength with additives.

For these applications, solid fats are usually recommended, especially to achieve a finer and more homogeneous crumb. However, in Spain, as mentioned, there is a preference for products made with liquid fats (oils), which are considered healthier. To achieve a finer crumb with the incorporation of oils, the use of strong flours and emulsifiers can be considered, contributing to enhancing this effect.

Gluten-Free Breads

In the production of gluten-free bread, it is almost mandatory to use oils. These breads tend to be very dry without the addition of oils, which can help create juicier products. Furthermore, the oil does not evaporate during baking or storage, reducing starch retrogradation and contributing to a longer shelf life, addressing one of the typical issues with gluten-free bread. Based on our experience, liquid vegetable oils are more suitable than fats, as they do not increase the viscosity of the doughs or batters; in fact, they reduce it, helping achieve better final product volumes. Regarding the quantity, we usually advise trying with 10% and not exceeding 15%, as higher percentages can lead to overly oily textures. However, the final percentage will depend on the type of formulation used.


Although there are cakes where oils or fats are not included in the formulation, such as many sponge cakes, these tend to have very dry textures and are usually consumed well-soaked in a liquid like milk or filled with cream, chocolate, pastry cream, or others, to add juiciness. In formulations of cakes with oil or fats, or those of similar products like muffins or cupcakes, oil plays an essential role. On one hand, it imparts juiciness and tenderness to the product. On the other hand, it helps stabilize the air bubbles within the batter, improving its expansion and retention, and increasing the final product’s volume. Removing oil or fats in these cases results in products with very low volume and a very dry texture. In such cases, if you want to reduce the use of oils or fats, you can turn to the use of hydrocolloid blends (to retain more moisture and provide juiciness) and emulsifiers (to stabilize bubbles). However, this can lead to other problems, such as an increased risk of microbial development.

Regarding whether it is better to use oils or fats, this depends on the desired outcome. Many Anglo-Saxon books discuss the problems of using oils and how to correct them. However, in Spain, we are accustomed to these types of products and do not find them problematic, besides improving their nutritional quality, which, by the way, will never be very good. If you want to make a comparison between a product made with oil and another with fats, you can compare a conventional cake with a “sobao pasiego,” made with butter or vegetable fats. Obviously, there are differences in taste, possibly in the crumb colour. Differences are also observed in the crumb structure, which is finer in products with fats, unless formulations have been modified or additives have been used. The mouthfeel is also different, with the oil-incorporated product feeling lighter. From these premises, the type of fat or oil should be chosen based on the desired product.


In the production of cookies, fats, along with flour and sugar, are the main ingredients, and each formulation requires a specific type and quantity. In general, fat helps modify the rheology of the doughs, which must be adjusted to different processes. For instance, in laminated cookies, excessively solid rheology would pose problems during the lamination process, while overly liquid rheology would also cause issues. Solid fats have the advantage that they can be liquefied, either during kneading or beforehand, to mix with the other ingredients. When solidified again, they increase the consistency of the dough. Subsequently, during baking, they melt again, reducing the dough’s consistency and facilitating its expansion. Fats also influence the stickiness of the dough, which needs to be adjusted in many processes, such as those of rotary cookies.

In general, fats facilitate internal structure, gas retention, expansion in the oven, and contribute to achieving more aerated and less compact and hard cookies. Fats also help provide a better mouthfeel, less dry, and more pleasant. However, as mentioned, it needs to be studied in each case due to the wide variety of formulations, processes, and types of cookies.

Puff Pastry and Laminated Doughs

These types of doughs are characterized by a layered structure, with layers of dough separated by layers of fat. The dough, with fat in its central zone, undergoes various laminations and folds to increase the number of layers. It is common to incorporate small amounts of fat into the dough to facilitate its extensibility, as mentioned earlier. The central fat must be solid to separate the layers of dough without mixing with them. However, it also needs to be extensible, so it cannot be excessively hard. It must withstand the process without melting, as successive folds heat the ensemble, and if the melting point is too low, it can liquefy. In general, puff pastry doughs require fats with a lower melting point than non-fermented laminated doughs, as the latter undergo more folds and, therefore, greater heating. Butter is commonly used in croissant preparation. Butter has a melting point that is not too high, and in fact, it would be challenging to make non-fermented laminated doughs with this fat, so these aspects must be monitored. Therefore, when working with these doughs, ambient temperature should be considered, and in some cases, especially in artisanal bakeries, resting periods between folds may be advisable to prevent the fat from continuing to heat up. Refrigeration rests can also be used.


Fillings can have a water or fat base. In the case of a fat base, there is an improvement in palatability, a reduction in syneresis, and fewer microbial issues, but the caloric content is higher. The fats chosen for these preparations must melt in the mouth to achieve a proper refreshing effect (as the fusion absorbs heat from the surroundings). Their influence on the rheology of fillings, which must be pumpable while maintaining a certain structure, must also be considered. Additionally, in some cookies, their impact on stickiness should be considered, as they need to help keep creams adhered to cookies or wafers.


In some cases, fats also play a role in the formulations of certain coatings. The most typical case is cocoa butter. In these cases, it is essential that the coating is solid and brittle at room temperature, allowing it to be handled without being excessively sticky. However, it must melt in the mouth, so as not to feel pasty and to generate a refreshing effect. Cocoa butter fulfills these functions, and due to its organoleptic quality, it is the most suitable. However, if we choose to replace cocoa butter with other fats, we can avoid tempering issues. Still, these alternatives must have a similar melting curve, and their organoleptic quality will be reduced.


Finally, let’s briefly discuss frying, as some products go through this process before reaching the market. In general, frying is a process where pieces are subjected to very high temperatures for short periods, especially on their external surface. During this process, the evaporation of part of the dough’s water (due to the high temperature) occurs, which is replaced by oil. Therefore, the better the nutritional quality of the frying oil, the better the quality of the final product. However, the stability of fats under prolonged heating must also be considered. Fats degrade in these processes, losing quality and affecting taste and nutritional quality. Still, these fats are usually used in several frying cycles. Thus, the most stable fats are those with a high smoke point (temperature at which they start to smoke). Some fats rich in saturated fatty acids, such as palm oil, have been widely used for this purpose as they are quite stable at high temperatures. However, in recent years, there has been a gradual elimination of this type of fat, and it is more common today to use high oleic sunflower oil, among other alternatives.

Leave a Reply

Discover more from Innograin

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading