Additives are not new. Additions to food have been made since pre-historic times, mainly to help preserve food and make it safer to eat. Salt, vinegar and sugar are traditional methods of preservation. In today’s kitchen we use many flavourings and colours, including cream of tartar and baking powder – but seldom recognise that these are food additives. Many substances used as additives also occur naturally in foods, e.g. citric acid in fruits.
Without additives it would be impossible to feed modern urban populations. There would be a dramatic reduction in the number and variety of foods available and there would be a significant increase in food poisoning outbreaks and food borne diseases.
The most common additives in flour are ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and in some cases alpha amylase. The latter is an enzyme that occurs naturally in wheat but at variable levels. A small quantity may be added to standardise levels in flour and make it bake more consistently.
However not all flour is treated in this way; it depends on the customer’s requirements. Raising agents such as sodium bicarbonate are added to make self-raising flour.
Other additives may be used at bakeries; the most common are emulsifiers, which are derived from oils; and preservatives (see below). Consumers nowadays want fewer and fewer additives in their food. The baking industry has responded by developing bread making techniques which reduce additives to a minimum. Before they can be used for food production, additives must pass rigorous approval procedures at national, European and international level. They must be shown to be both necessary and safe. Because they undergo such stringent testing, more is known about their biological, physiological and toxicological effects than about many of the natural foods we commonly eat. Consumers can therefore be confident that approved additives are safe and serve a useful purpose.
Bread, as our staple food, has always been very closely governed by law. The Bread and Flour Regulations (1998) govern the use of additives as well as requiring the addition of certain nutrients.
The Food Labelling Regulations require that all additives (except flavourings, which are not used in bread) be individually listed in ingredient lists. Bread wrappers carry a full list of ingredients, including additives. The provision of nutritional information is voluntary but bread wrappers will always include this on the label.
The following additives would normally be included among the ingredients list on bread wrappers:
Processing Aids– Various enzymes and processing aids are also permitted for use in bread making. They are destroyed by the baking process and therefore do not need to be listed on the label. In fact, enzymes are naturally present in flour and also developed by yeast as it ferments, but sometimes they may also be added in very small quantities to help create a better dough.
Flour Treatment Agents – These are used to ensure good loaf volume and improve the crumb structure, softness and colour. Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, (E300) is the most common flour treatment agent used in bread making. Cyseine – an amino acid derived from vegetable sources – may be used by some bakers.
Emulsifying Agents – These are used to provide dough stability and tolerance in addition to improving loaf volume and crumb structure and maintaining softness. They come from vegetable oils, the most commonly used are E471 and E472(E)
The most common form of preservative used is vinegar. This adjusts the acidity level (pH) of the loaf to prevent the development of mould spores and other spoilage organisms. Vinegar is a natural ingredient and is not regarded as a food additive. Sometimes fermented wheat flour may be used, which also acts as a preservative by making the dough more acid. Sourdoughs benefit from the same effect.
Calcium Propionate (E282) inhibits the growth of mould spores and bacteria directly. It is not widely used in the bakery sector but may feature in some long life brands.
NUTRITIONAL FORTIFICATION OF BREAD
The Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 require that flour should contain no less than 0.24 mg thiamin (vitamin B1), 1.60mg nicotinic acid and 1.65mg of iron per 100g of flour. These amounts are found naturally in wholemeal flour. White and brown flours must be fortified to restore their nutritional value to the required level.
In addition, regulation requires that calcium carbonate, at a level no less than 235mg and not more than 390mg per 100g of flour, is added to all flours except wholemeal and certain self-raising varieties. This ensures the high nutritional value of all bread, whether it is white, brown or wholemeal.
The Bread and Flour Regulations are currently the subject of a government review (May 2013).