Shortening makes breads, pastries and other baked goods tender and flaky. Originally made from animal fats, shortening is also made from vegetable oils by a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation changes liquid vegetable oils to semi-solid shortenings. Vegetable shortening is virtually flavourless and can be substituted for other fats such as butter, margarine, or lard in baking and cooking. The most common vegetable shortenings are made from vegetable crops grown in North America and tropical countries.
Soybean oil is extracted from soybeans and used as a cooking oil or hydrogenated to become shortening. The use of soybean oil in vegetable shortening began with the major brands in the 1960s. Crisco, which was originally made with cottonseed oil, changed to a blend of soybean and palm oils, while Snowdrift mixed soybean and cottonseed oils. Soybean has become the most common vegetable used in making shortening.
Cottonseed oil was the first vegetable oil used commercially in America. Cottonseed shortening was introduced in 1911 under the brand name Crisco, which was an amalgam of "crystallised cottonseed oil." During the Second World War, cottonseed oil shortages led to an emphasis in soybean production and use. By 2010, Crisco reformulated its ingredients to drop palm oil and re-add fully hydrogenated cottonseed oil to blend with partially hydrogenated soybean oil.
Outside of North America, palm oil is the most commonly used cooking oil, with the largest producers being Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Because palm oil is a natural semi-solid, shortening made from organic palm oil is non-hydrogenated, making it an excellent alternative to traditional shortening. Pressed palm oil shortening has a smooth consistency, resulting in a creamy batter when making cakes, biscuits, pastries and especially butter cream fillings.
Corn oil, or maize oil, was first produced in 1898. It was called "mazoil." Corn oil is extracted from the corn germ. It has 13 per cent saturates, 60 per cent polyunsaturates. Corn oil is less expensive than other vegetable oils and is used extensively in food preparation and manufacturing. Corn oil is commonly blended with palm oil to make shortening. It is used in commercial baking.