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Trans fats and local, familiy bakeries

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Banning trans fat would ‘annihilate the legacy of every family bakery,'” or so says a baker from Philadelphia, PA, in response to a local city council bill that would prohibit the use of trans fats in commercial kitchens. As it first happened in New York when the city opted to ban trans fats, the public outcry was not unexpected, nor was the argument that small, family-owned businesses would be the ones to suffer for it. But this article is one of the rare ones that deals directly with bakeries, and perhaps the only that looks at how long some of these recipes  – with trans fat included – have been around.

Trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, were first developed around the turn of the 20th century and were made available to the public in 1911, as Crisco. This does support the claim that the recipes in question have been around for generations, but because the concern over trans fats is health based, the tradition of long-standing recipes alone is not enough to make their position supportable. And while the claim that “[the baked goods] just don’t have the same flavor” without trans fats in them may carry weight – especially when the recipe in question is a pound cake, which should be expected to contain large, flavorful quantities of butter and not partially hydrogenated shortening – it also is not necessarily a reason to permit the use of trans fats. Although they may not taste the same, that claim certainly does not imply that a butter cake, or even one made with zero trans fat Crisco, will taste worse than one made with trans fats; it will most likely taste better.

When you think of a “family bakery” with a multi-generation tradition of high quality baked goods, do you expect that you are buying baked goods made with quality ingredients, natural ingredients? Or do you expect that a pound cake will be made with (hydrogenated) shortening and preservatives?

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  • marygrace
    June 14, 2007

    i had an experience over the weekend and a local family farm that is somewhat relatable. i was exploring the display of jams, jellies, and preserves, fully expecting to see products containing only natural ingredients, but unfortunately, nearly everything contained high fructose corn syrup! i view HFCS to be similar to partially hydrogenated fats as they are both unnatural ingredients that are detrimental to health. it just seemed strange and even somewhat disappointing to see a family farm using ingredients like this in products that are supposed to evoke that warm, “home-y” feeling. when stopping in at a family farm market or local bakery, i would fully expect to see high quality, natural ingredients. my experience with HFCS in the fruit preserves, as well as the information in this article, came as a sad surprise.

  • Abby
    June 14, 2007

    I wondered about that – esp. with the number of bakeries in NYC alone. And icing? All those cupcake shops? Gracious. Why can’t people just learn moderation? I’m trying to teach that to myself! It’s unfortunate that we feel we have to legislate good sense. Oy.

  • Gigi
    June 14, 2007

    Part of the problem with this whole trans-fat thing is that some establishments are now being forced to switch from butter to vegetable-based fats, such as the zero trans fat Crisco. It’s insane to me to switch out butter for Crisco in baked goods. Sure, the taste might be similar to some, but butter is a much more natural form of fat. You can make it at home with a jar and heavy cream, for goodness sake! When was the last time you made Crisco at home?

    I agree with Abby – people should just start to learn moderation and stop relying on goverment to tell us what and how to eat.

  • Jason
    June 14, 2007

    It’s funny, when I read that article, I wasn’t thinking in terms of taste. I’m all for butter, don’t get me wrong, but I was thinking about economics. Sadly, due to the nature of the industrialized food supply we have, Crisco often costs less than butter. Small family bakeries that rely on cost-efficiency may have to hike their prices just to stay afloat if they’re suddenly deprived of a source of raw material to work with.

    It’s sad to think of food in terms of economics, but ‘annihilating the legacy of every family bakery’ may just mean that being a baker might not longer be cost-effective and many mom-and-pop places may have to close.

  • Sally
    June 15, 2007

    Apparently butter contains a fair amount of naturally occurring trans-fats so things that are very butter rich such as croissants and most likely anything with puff pastry or phylo will have more than the 0.5g of trans-fats per serving using natural butter. This seems like a problem…I think there should be a distinction between natural and artificial products here. And I don’t know that 0g trans-fat crisco is really 0g since anything that has less than 0.5g per serving can be legally called trans-fat free.

  • lily
    September 25, 2008

    I am a nurse that loves to cook, & bake & I want to share with all who will listen how awful these trans fats are !!!
    Transfats are out of my life now, & I feel the better for it.
    I am less in a panic about possibly getting breast cancer or a stroke or losing my husband to a heart attack.
    I have replace Crisco with real butter where I can & olive oil.
    I use no margarines. I do not buy from the supermarket bakery as they use fake transfat flavored like butter. No more commercial frostings. I do my own that is a combo of cream cheese, butter & powdered sugar. You can flavor this type of frosting sooo easily, with cocoa for chocolate frosting, orange peel or lemon peel grated in makes it taste like those 2 types. Anything works really, coffee, coconut etc

  • lily
    September 25, 2008

    There is NO SAFE level of transfat, using moderation won t help your level of consumption needs to be ZERO.
    Watch out on peanut butter too all major brands have partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) I buy my peanut in health food section of my supermarket. That section has other nut butters too
    in case you may want to try those.
    Stay healthy ladies: oils & butter, I threw away the large can of Crisco I had & have never looked back.
    People baked yummy stuff before Crisco & BTW my market reformulated crackers (a Ritz type of cracker) & I find it delicious now! Its tender & flaky now! with no transfat

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