After the bran and germ are removed from wheat grains, what’s left is mainly the starch in the endosperm. Try making bread from corn starch and you’ll see why chemicals are added to flour to make it behave like flour again.
These chemicals give flour a bad taste and odor, so restaurants and baked goods hide this by adding a lot of salt, sugar, and fat.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved dozens of chemicals that can be added to flour, but you won’t see them in the ingredients list
I’d like to know all of these chemicals are safe, but 62,000 chemicals that were invented before the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act remain untested. Since then, the Environmental Protection Agency has only tested 200 of the 80,000 chemicals used in the USA. Even if a chemical is safe, it might not be when combined with others.
Here are just some of the chemicals added to white flour
Emulsifiers to strengthen dough, soften crumb, make the texture consistent, etc.
lecithin, sodium stearoyl lactylate (SSL), glycerol monostearate, diglycerides, sucrose esters of fatty acids, monoglyceride and lecithin enriched in lysophospholipids, sucrose palmitate (sucrose ester), citrate ester of monoglyceride (citrate MG), polysorbate (polyoxyethylene sorbitan monostearate), carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), stearyl palmityl tartrate, sodium alginate, kappa carrageenan
Dough Conditioners (also known as dough improvers)
diacetyl tartaric acid ester of monoglyceride (DATEM), calcium stearoyl-2-lactylate, calcium carbonate, monocalcium phosphate
Whitens and brightens bread color quickly, strengthens dough-gluten bonds to handle high-speed machinery, give volume. In cake flour, chlorination helps get better results where more sugar is used than flour (Kent). Germany and France only allow one oxidizing chemical: L-ascorbic acid.
Flour maturing (oxidant)
Azodicarbonamide In the UK it’s believed it may cause asthma, and may cause allergic reactions in those allergic to azo compounds.
L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
Bleaching (oxidant): Benzoyl
Chlorine, chlorine dioxide. Chlorine (gas) is always used to bleach cake flours and mixes. Chlorine is not allowed in most European countries.
Nitrogen peroxide. Discontinued everywhere but the USA and Australia.
acetone peroxide. Not permitted in the U.K.
Dough Conditioners (oxidant, increases volume)
Potassium Bromate. This chemical is known to cause cancer in animals. In California there must be a warning label if this is in the baked goods (Weiss, Amendola). It’s added to make the dough stronger and quickens mixing and fermentation. It isn’t allowed in Canada, Europe, Brazil, Peru, Nigeria, etc.
Calcium bromate, calcium iodate, calcium peroxide, calcium dioxide, calcium sulfate, ammonium sulfate, potassium persulfate, ammonium persulfate, potassium iodate
Reductants & enzymes reduce the mixing time so more baked goods can be produced.
Reducing agents: L-cysteine, glutathione (GSH), bisulfite salts.
Enzymes: amylase, lipoxygenase, transglutaminase (strengthens dough)
Preservatives: Calcium Propionate
BHA and BHT Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) may cause cancer
Food colorings: Blue 1, Blue 2, Red 3, Green 3, Yellow 6. All of these are linked to cancer.
Center for Science in the Public Interest says Acesulfame-K, artificial colorings blue 1, red 3, yellow 6, and transfats in baked goods should be avoided because they are “Unsafe in amounts consumed or very poorly tested and not worth any risk.” .
One or more of: increase dough yield, resiliency, improve texture and shelf life, thicken, gel, stabilize: xanthan gum, guar gum, gum arabic, locust bean gum, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC), high ester pectin
Leavening agents: calcium phosphate
Mold inhibitors: salts of propionic acid
Amendola, Joseph, et. al. 2002. Understanding baking: the art and science of baking. John Wile & Sons.
Figoni, Paula. 2007. How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science. Chapter 5. Flour and Dough Additives and Treatments. John Wiley and Sons.
GAO. Feb 2010. Food Safety. FDA should Strengthen its Oversight of Food Ingredients Determined to Be Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). United States Government Accountability Office. Report to Congressional Requesters.
Kent, Norman Leslie, et. al. 1994. Technology of cereals: an introduction for students of food science and agriculture. Woodhead Publishing
Saferchemicals.org. Toxic Chemicals, the cost to our health.
Smith, J. Scott, et. al. 2004. Food processing: principles and applications. Wiley-Blackwell.
Tenbergen, Klaus. Nov 1999. Dough and Bread Conditioners. Culinary Connection
Wartman, Kristin. 27 Apr 2011. Are you enjoying your daily chemical cocktail? Grist.org
Weiser, H. 2003. The use of redox agents. German Research Centre of Food Chemistry, Germany. Woodhead Publishing Limited.
Weiss, Jean. (health.msn.com) Jean Weiss. 12 Food Additives to Avoid. MSN Health and Fitness. Health.msn.com.