John Mitchell, partner at law firm Blake Morgan, looks at what constitutes ‘wholemeal’ flour under EU regulation
Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the ingredients in their food. So, when a recent study suggested that some bread being marketed as ‘wholemeal’ used non-wholemeal flours in its production, a few eyebrows were raised.
The study compared the ingredients of 11 wholemeal loaves and found that every loaf contained soya flour, while fortified wheat flour, fermented wheat flour and barley flour were also found.
The Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 clearly state if the word ‘wholemeal’ is used to describe a loaf, all flour used as an ingredient in the preparation of the bread must be wholemeal. To interpret this, it’s necessary to understand what is meant by the terms ‘ingredient’ and ‘flour’.
Under EU regulations, an ‘ingredient’ includes any product or substance used in preparing a food and that is still present in the finished product. The key issue in whether a product is considered a ‘flour’ is whether it is derived from a cereal. As soya is a legume, not a cereal, flour derived from grinding soya is not technically a flour. This confirms that it’s perfectly legitimate to describe bread which contains soya flour as being wholemeal, provided that the bread complies with all the other requirements.
However, it is a different story for other flours such as fortified wheat flour. It is clear from the definition in the Bread and Flour Regulations that fortified wheat flour is indeed a flour since it derives from a cereal and is not one of products excluded from the definition of flour, such as wheatgerm. The same assertion can be made for fermented wheat flour and barley flour.
According to the EU regulations, these flours could potentially qualify as ingredients, since they are products used in the manufacturing of bread and are present in the baked bread product, in the same way as the wholemeal flour which is the primary ingredient.
For bakers who want to use the ‘wholemeal’ description, presenting the non-wholemeal flours as ‘additives’ or ‘flavourings’ won’t help their case, as such items are specifically mentioned by the EU regulations as being ingredients. In any event, according to EU law, flour – being a food – is not a food additive.
Another argument is that non-wholemeal flours are not ‘ingredients’ because they are being used as ‘processing aids’ or ‘carriers’ for the bread. As processing aids or carriers, they are not required by law to be declared on the list of ingredients, unless they are also allergens. Non-wholemeal flours are allergens, which explains why they appear on the list.
However, it’s a grey area as to whether the non-wholemeal flours fall within the technical definitions of processing aids or carriers. And even if they did, as processing aids or carriers, they are still products that are used in the manufacturing of bread and arguably satisfy the definition of an ingredient. Therefore, if they are an ingredient, the bread should not be called wholemeal.
While it could be argued there is a level of interpretation in the regulations, the devil is in the detail. With the health-conscious consumer casting their eagle eye on every inch of packaging, there is no margin for error when it comes to labelling.