Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gluten Free Baked Goods: Want a Cleaner Label?

So, I was leafing through a baking journal and came upon an ad for “Squeaky Clean Labels” by a company named Watson Inc:

Let us help you to change existing ingredient labels and remove chemical dough conditioners, such as Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Mono and Diglycerides, Azodicarbonamide or DATEM with Softn’Mighty (proprietary enzyme technology.) Watson can also replace Calcium Proprionate with our No Mold (cultured wheat) and Potassium Bromate with our Natural Oven Spring 910 (proprietary enzyme technology.) Most importantly, it can be done without compromising product quality!

The global market for industrial enzymes is estimated to be $2.9 billion, larger than the entire gluten free market. Oddly enough, no one seems to be questioning their use in either traditional or gluten free baking…not in this country anyway. In the UK, however, an organization called the Real Bread Campaign ( calls enzymes “baking’s dirty secret” and asserts that the industry is reluctant to tell consumers that they use them.

The latest buzz word in baking ingredients, and surely a sign of industrialized food manufacturing, is “enzymes.” Enzymes are potent biomolecules derived from protein that act as catalysts for the chemical reactions involved in the baking process. The right combination of enzymes produces springiness in both wheat-based and gluten free breads. Enzymes also keep baked bread from going stale, eliminating the problem of starch in the dough crystallizing and becoming dry, certainly an asset for gluten free breads. From the bread manufacturer’s perspective, though, the greatest benefit is that they leave a squeaky-clean label.

Don’t think that the “clean” label you’re reading means that the baked goods were made with the same natural ingredients in your grandmother’s kitchen. You won’t find "enzymes" on the spice shelf, slotted nicely between dill and fennel. These are big business ingredients. Genetic engineering is used in the development and manufacture of most commercially available enzymes used by the food and beverage industry. The reason for genetic engineering is mostly economic--without genetic engineering, naturally occurring enzymes in microorganisms cannot be fermented in a cost effective manner.

Both traditional and gluten free baked goods consumers are insisting on clean labels and are becoming increasingly weary of chemical additives and dough conditioners. This demand is driving ingredient makers to engineer products that increase the springiness, improve the texture, and extend the shelf-life of baked goods. Gluten free consumers can certainly benefit from these improvements, but at what cost? Innovation doesn’t have to mean the industrialization of food, serious food processing, and ingredient engineering. At Against The Grain, we have one of the cleanest labels in the gluten free baked goods category, and we do it it old-fashinoed way.

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