Are preservatives in bread bad for you?
300 additives in bread? A fact check
Many people apparently assume that there are “many additives in bread” which they also consider to be hazardous to health. Media reports hit the same line and flank the corresponding fears. But how is it really? Are there “300 additives in bread”? If so: which ones and why? If not: where does this information come from? A contribution that takes a closer look at things, provides surprising facts and ends with a recommendation for bakers and consumers alike.
1. Fact check additives in bread: is the media right?
Bread bashing takes place regularly in print and TV media, suggesting that bread used to be better and that “nowadays” they contain considerable amounts of additives. The Zeit magazine wrote: "There are so many additives in bread today that even the ducks in the city park refuse it!" A thesis that, by the way, can be refuted in any duck pond. The star even calls German bread dazzling, with which it follows its own tradition of vilifying bread because it apparently sells well. 11 years ago the same magazine claimed that “the baker on the corner” only pushes “industrially manufactured dough pieces” into the oven.
The editors have so far failed to provide a reliable source for such allegations. Instead, reference is made to the fact that “over 300 additives in bread” are permitted (which is wrong - see point 5 below) or “witnesses” are named, e.g. bakers presented in words and pictures who, in contrast to all others, are “still correct bake ”, which has become so rare - which they dutifully affirm with a view to sales growth. Real facts, like in this post? Nothing! Serious journalism is not ...
2. Fact check Additives in bread: does bread often contain preservatives?
When I trained the journalists of a very well-known food magazine on the subject of bread in 2014 (who then tested bakers), it only took a few minutes for the accusation that there was “a lot of chemistry in bread”. When I asked: "Which chemistry?", "Preservatives" were immediately called. I had to smile because there are preservatives in unpackaged bread prohibited by law! Surprised? The only exceptions are sliced and packaged bread, as offered on supermarket shelves, provided that they are labeled accordingly. But the industry also largely forego this today. According to the law, the bread on the baker's bread shelf and his rolls are completely free of preservatives - which does not prevent some people and the media from continuing to claim this.
3. Fact check additives in bread: Are colorings used?
The next accusation of the journalists were then "colorings", which the bakers would use to "simulate a higher whole grain content in bread". Yes, surprise: There have also been dyes in bread in Germany for many years prohibited by law! To be honest: Sometimes malt is added to the dough, which also has a slight coloring effect. Above all, it creates a sweet, aromatic taste that is very much appreciated by many customers. Here, the baker is concerned with the taste, not the color, and certainly not the “pretense of a higher whole grain content”. Because in the guiding principles of the German Food Book it is clearly defined that at least 90% of the whole grain bread must come from whole grain. So if it says whole grain, it has to be whole grain. This is checked by the food control department using laboratory analyzes.
Incidentally, the aforementioned guidelines are issued by the German Food Book Commission (DLMBK), to which I was appointed by the Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture in 2016. An interesting and responsible honorary position.
4. Fact check: Are chemicals used in bread baking?
This question can be answered clearly with "yes"! There are among others modified starches, glue molecules, sulfur bridge compounds, denatured enzymes, mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids and heterocyclic flavor compounds used - very regularly! Aaaaber ...
... the bread described consists only of flour, water, salt and sourdough. Because all of the substances mentioned occur in every flour (including organic flour) or are created in a completely natural way when making bread. Even the grain of the grain turns out to be a true biochemical factory, which is in top form through grinding, dough production and the baking process. Otherwise there would be no bread. This is called the miracle of nature or else the art of baking.
5. Fact check: Are there over 300 additives in bread?
Such representations are based on the European Additive Regulation (No. 1333/2008), which came into force in 2008 and applies to all EU member states, in Germany in the form of the Additive Authorization Regulation. The regulation currently includes around 340 additives that may be used in food. These are each assigned an E number. However, this does not mean that these substances are harmful to health, otherwise they would not be approved. And some “dangerous” E numbers are surprisingly harmless. Or are you afraid of oxygen (E948)?
Now it comes: Most of the 340 fabrics with E-numbers are for bread-making prohibited, e.g. colorants (E100 - E180) or preservatives (E200 - E297), see above. This means that more than half of the additives in said list are dropped. Others make absolutely no sense in bread dough. Why should a baker add sweeteners (E950 - E969), hydrochloric acid (E507), sulfuric acid (E513), beeswax (E901), hydrogen (E949) or gold (E175) to their bread dough?
Claims that suggest that there could be “over 300 additives in bread” are therefore poorly researched or deliberately dubiousto scare people and thus increase the circulation or quota. The fact is: the vast majority of additives approved in the EU are only allowed for certain food groups and forbidden for bread-making or completely pointless, as shown.
6. Why are additives sometimes used in bread - and which ones?
Both the baker and his customer want bread that is as loosened as possible, tasteful and of consistent quality. It was discovered very early on that the addition of certain substances could help improve the quality of the bread. As early as 1859, the use of malt described for dough preparation in order to achieve more fermentable dough and better bread quality. Malt is obtained by soaking, germinating and heating ("drying") grain such as barley. This creates many enzymes in a natural way, which by adding a little malt to the dough have a positive effect on volume, browning and taste.
In addition to enzymes can also Emulsifiers used as additives to improve volume, e.g. lecithin, which occurs naturally in egg yolks and soy. In the production of small baked goods (rolls) in particular, malts and emulsifiers are used quite often in order to achieve the quality desired by customers. Such a thing is not absolutely necessary with bread.
Also Swelling flours or modified starches are sometimes used in bread baking. "Modified" means "changed". The starches are pre-swollen in order to improve the water-binding capacity of the dough and thus the freshness, as is the case with the spring flours.
Sometimes the additives are already in the flour, e.g. many mills make something Ascorbic acid added. This substance is used to ripen the flour so that the flour does not have to be stored until it can be processed. It stabilizes the protein in the grain and thus also helps the baker. Incidentally, ascorbic acid is by no means questionable. Another name for this is "Vitamin C".
There are other possible additives. Years ago, for example, Cysteine (E910) at the center of many reports because this substance was allegedly obtained "from Chinese human hair" - which turned out to be untrue, but until then had sold extremely well in the media. The natural amino acid cysteine (actually: L-cysteine) is indeed found in hair, but also in many other natural raw materials, including in the flour itself. L-cysteine relaxes the protein structure in the dough, the so-called glue protein. A dough with the addition of a little L-cysteine becomes more elastic and develops faster. The volume also improves, and thus the bread quality.
In the production of bread, there are also some Enzymes used to compensate for fluctuating flour qualities and to improve bread quality. Many of them are purely natural. For example, the naturally occurring amylases in flour are partially isolated and added again in concentrated form. Amylases break down the starch (amylose) of the flour into sugars, which, in contrast to starch, can be metabolized by the yeast. To be honest, it must be said that there are now enzymes that come from the laboratory. Such "miracle enzymes" make the dough, for example, "machine-compatible", which is helpful in the industrial production of bread. Other enzymes can extend the shelf life, e.g. maltogenic amylases. They keep the bread fresh for weeks, which is important for those bread makers who deliver packaged bread to retailers. He expects his suppliers of toasted bread, etc., to have a shelf life of 9 weeks! Due to the current legal situation, enzymes do not have to be declared because it is assumed that they “no longer have any technological effectiveness in the end product” - which, in view of the above-mentioned effects, can be doubted. Criticism regularly arises from this.
7. Why are baking mixes used in some cases?
Most bakeries have been around for generations. Their traditional house breads, such as the mixed breads, have generally never been changed. They are often baked “like they used to be”. If a baker got the idea to suddenly bake his traditional mixed bread with a baking mix instead of flour, sourdough, water, salt and yeast, the customer would immediately notice the change in his favorite bread and punish the baker with reluctance to buy. In addition, baking mixes are very expensive. It is therefore logical that there are many more traditionally produced types of bread in bakeries in our country than some reports suggest.
But it is also true that some bakers are overwhelmed with the constantly changing diet trends (breads with little carbohydrates, with superfoods, ancient grains, etc.) and therefore sometimes resort to baking mixes in order to serve the latest trend quickly and easily. The customer at the counter asks about it! The baking agent manufacturers have accordingly specialized in this. The serious shortage of skilled workers in the bakery trade also means that some bakers inevitably have to make their work a little easier.
Baking mixes are not “chemistry”, but often only Premixes of various raw materials such as grain, oilseeds, spices, etc. The baker delegates the time-consuming product development of a trendy type of bread and also saves himself a warehouse full of sacks of raw materials that he would otherwise have to buy and weigh individually, which means time. But it is also correct: many customers distrust baking mixes and would like bakers who bake according to their own recipes, something that is being heard and practiced by more and more bakeries. They are reducing their bread selection and prefer to bake fewer types of bread, but traditionally.
8. How many bakers use additives and baking mixes?
In view of 11,373 bakeries in Germany (as of December 31, 2016) and other bread manufacturers, nobody (!) Has an overview of which bread maker works how exactly - and for which types. This applies to journalists as well as to the associations of the baking industry, who are not allowed and do not want to tell their members how to bake. In this respect, all assumptions about the use of additives in bread are highly dubious. I repeat: Nobody knows exactly which breads are traditionally baked and which also contain other ingredients.
This knowledge gap is used by certain media that are not aimed at information, but rather at circulation and quota. Scare sells well. Others also fill this gap with speculations, e.g. the head of an enzyme manufacturer who, for propaganda reasons, regularly trumpets that his products are in "90% of all breads in Europe" - which is taken over by the media in question and cited as evidence. His competitors and many bread bakers shake their heads at this transparent statement.
9. Additives in bread: own assessment of actual use
As I said, nobody knows exactly which baker bakes which types of bread and how exactly, including me. Personally, however, I believe that the impression that no baker can do without additives is not true. I would like to give you 6 indications for this:
a) 1st indication: Every artisan baker also enjoys his own bread with his family. So he will do a devil because there is more to pack than necessary. And additives are not necessary in manual production! In addition, no baker is interested in buying expensive additives if he doesn't need them. Many of the breads in the bakeries are based on ancient recipes and have probably never been changed.
a) 2nd indication: Many of the food additives are banned in bread making, as shown above. For this reason alone there can be no “300 additives in bread”. Many of the other additives on the list make no sense at all. Why should a baker add hydrochloric acid (E507), sulfuric acid (E513), beeswax (E901) or gold (E175) to his bread? The latter, by the way, is considered a coloring agent and is forbidden in bread because bread cannot be colored.
b) 3rd indication: Word has long got around in the baking industry that customers do not want any additives in their bread. Those bakers who can do without them due to their artisanal production methods, in my opinion, are increasingly doing so. Instead, they rely on soft dough, little yeast and a lot of time in order to generate the desired enzymatics and their effect on freshness, taste and browning in a completely natural way. Various pre-doughs are often used for this, in which parts of the flour are pre-soaked for hours with cold or hot water or natural starter cultures are added to create a fermentation.
c) 4th indication: One of my professional tasks is to maintain the German bread register, which served as an attachment for the recognition of the German bread culture as a national cultural heritage. Together with the experts from the German Bread Institute, which I am allowed to manage, every single ingredient of every single type of bread was checked. Only then was the bread added to the register. So far these are already over 3,200 different bread specialties - Each one of them is made according to the rules for the bread register using the traditional art of baking. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to publish the details of the bread register in order to refute the widespread cliché to a certain extent. With that we would reveal ancient house recipes that were entrusted to us.
d) 5th indication: My professional responsibilities also include managing the Academy of the German Bakery Trade in Weinheim, which has been enjoying increasing demand for its seminars for years. Each individual specialist seminar shows the traditional art of baking, including the processes described under Indication No. 3. Why should a baker invest money in further training if he only tears open bags at home, which does not require specialist knowledge ...? Many bakers implement what they have learned and report their successes the next time they attend a seminar. Some even take part-time training to become a bread sommelier for a year and pass many exams on a voluntary basis! This may be just the tip of the iceberg, but it has been showing up here for years a clear trendthat runs through ever larger parts of the industry.
e) 6th indication: They say: "Baking is the new way of cooking". A large hobby baker scene has developed in Germany. You can find out more in blogs or in baking books especially for non-professionals, here is a tip from a blogger. Ambitious hobby bakers even attend our professional seminars in Weinheim. The bravest semi-professional seminar participants then open a bakery as lateral entrants - for which, for legal reasons, a master baker usually has to be hired. The bread purists are a successful example of this.The “new professionals” and the blogs of the (still) hobby bakers also inspire the established bakeries with fresh ideas for baking bread, such as the rediscovery of old types of grain. Gerde, the next generation of baking professionals, is very open-minded and is looking for new ways by focusing more on the roots of our craft.
10. A recommendation for bakers: get back to the roots
As shown, I am professionally committed to the German bakery trade and will therefore refrain from making any demands here. This is the task of politics and associations. However, I can only recommend every baker colleague to listen to their customers and to cultivate the traditional bread-making method. The following applies: less is more. You don't necessarily need 15-25 different types of bread a day. Many colleagues are already following this path (which I have been promoting for many years in books, seminars and lectures). Unfortunately, some of them are silent. They are therefore wrongly subject to the cliché that all bakers “no longer bake themselves” and that there are many additives in bread. More than ever, the following applies: Do good and talk about it!
So allow me the following advice: Voluntarily discard all ingredients used in all types of bread! Also name the suppliers, e.g. the mill from which you get the flour! Enter into a dialogue with your customers! Open your bakery regularly to visitors! Offers bread-baking courses himself to meet the demand and to demonstrate that you can “bake right”! (Of course you can do that as a master baker. You have learned it. But it is important to show this so that the customers believe you)
11. A recommendation for consumers: dialogue instead of clichés
Anyone who has not spoken to their baker should not condemn them - and nobody has spoken to around 11,000 bakeries in Germany! In this respect, please refrain from gossiping media reports and rumors unchecked and condemning bakers across the board. Even if there are certainly also bad bakers, a general judgment hits many wrongly, as shown above. It is better to seek a dialogue with the baker of your choice. Let us explain to you which ingredients he adds to the bread dough for each type of bread and why. A good baker has nothing to hide, uses little or no additives in bread and is happy to receive ideas from customers.
Precisely because consumers are increasingly demanding this, more and more bakers are thinking of traditional baking methods that only require flour, water, salt, possibly a little yeast and a lot of time for bread (note: the sourdough that is missing here is nothing more than a dough made of flour and water that has been fermented). This also out of a certain professional pride. Some bakers even apply purity laws on a voluntary basis. You, dear customer, should then be prepared to take a detour and pay a decent price for all the work behind it.
12. Summary: additives in bread
As shown, from my point of view, additives in bread are much rarer than commonly assumed, and are by no means generally questionable. Some of them are just natural substances that are already present in the flour and improve the bread with concentrated additions. In my opinion, other additives are rightly criticized. Instead of scaremongering and a blanket disparagement of the cultural asset of bread, it is worth differentiating and objectively examining it on the basis of a personal conversation with the baker you trust. Because there is no such thing as “the” baker, but many different ones with their own philosophies.
In my opinion, a trend reversal is taking place here and especially the young master bakers, who I have been training and shaping at the master school in Weinheim since 2006, later, in my experience, reflect very much on the traditional art of bread baking, which we bring them closer to them for many months.
The good, traditionally baked bread made only from basic ingredients and without additives: it still exists! And from my point of view it is by no means as rare as many claim. I have given you indications for this. As long as someone who sings the old song about the "many additives in bread" does not provide as weighty evidence as I do, you should not believe them. He just wants to make you feel insecure, usually for your own benefit.
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