The UK baking industry has come to rely on a whole host of additives to make a classic range of products, from crumpets to loaves. Over the past few years, the tide has been turning towards additive-free. But there is a lot of misunderstanding about what function ingredients such as bread improvers perform and how to replace them.

British Baker attended a ’clean label’ development day at ingredients supplier GB Plange to find out. "Clean label is an industry term it’s not something that means that much to the consumer. Generally, this means removing ingredients with E-numbers," says Marie Parnell, general manager of GB Plange. "This means emulsifiers, but also preservatives, which tend to be used by the larger industrial bakeries. Then there are flour treatment agents, such as ascorbic acid, which are used to give better volume."

Why are bakers concerned about removing them? Because consumers are. ’Use of additives’ was the fifth most mentioned food concern cited by a Food Standards Agency (FSA) study, published in 2009, behind food poisoning, salt and hygiene in take-home/eat out foods. In the main, retailers’ views are following suit to keep the use of additives to a minimum.

"Rightly or wrongly, consumers seem to equate naturalness and that also means no additives with being better for them," explains Parnell. "The perception by the lay consumer is that additives somehow damage health. As an industry, we need to respond to consumers’ needs for more natural products with fewer additives; they don’t want to see any reduction in the quality of the bread; and they don’t want to see unacceptable cost being added onto the price of a loaf."

When it comes to replacing emulsifiers, enzymes present no additional cost and they do a similar job. However, the issue is not black and white. There are murmurings in Europe that enzymes which currently do not have to be labelled may eventually have to be declared on-pack. This would be the case if any enzymes were found to survive the baking process and if a clear link were made to allergies.

What’s more, how clean is clean? One of the four basic bread ingredients, salt, contains two anti-caking agents. Then there’s ascorbic acid aka Vitamin C... "Actually, what we’re really talking about is cleaner labels, because most clean label bread improvers do have ascorbic acid in them," says Parnell. "When it comes to talking about clean label, most people are prepared to accept ascorbic acid. From a consumer point of view, that is considered natural."

Here we explore additives and some alternatives on the market.


Flour Treatment Agents: gas retention/dough strengthening

Ascorbic Acid (E300)

The main benefit is a stronger elastic protein network, through forming chains in the proteins, which results in good oven spring. The overall effect is a stable, stronger, more elastic protein net-work capable of expanding without rupture. It benefits the protein network by removing bonding potential of the water-soluble proteins. It requires oxygen to convert to de-hydro ascorbic acid (vacuum mixing will reduce oxygen availability).

Solution: it is also known as Vitamin C, so the consumer is not that concerned. However, if you are desperate to remove ascorbic acid from the label, there are natural ingredients that contain ascorbic acid. One clean label alternative is Acerola cherry.

Drawbacks: It will cost you a fortune! It is priced at around 10 times that of ascorbic acid, and requires around 10 times more quantity.

Also, because it’s a natural ingredient, which depends on soil and climate conditions, there will always be question marks over how consistent it can be. Glucose Oxidase is used on the continent to replace ascorbic acid but GB Plange does not recommend it for use in the UK.


L-Cysteine Hydrochloride (E920)

This relaxes the gluten network to make the dough much more extensible, with less shrink-back and better pan flow and volume control. It is for use in making regular shapes such as hamburger buns with an indent, pizzas or flatbreads with a certain shape and reworking pastry off-cuts. It is cost-effective because only a tiny amount is needed in a bread improver.

Solution 1: If you want to relax your dough and get some good pan flow, you can use deactivated yeast (Levuraline), which has a compound that is quite similar to Cysteine.

Drawbacks: It’s not the same effect it’s not as instant. With Cysteine in the dough, you can feel it straight out of the mixer an almost chewing gum-like dough. Deactivated yeast works a little later, which means it has a different function in the final effect on the bread. This could be seen as an advantage, because you don’t have an issue at the mixer stage. While it is cheaper than Cysteine, you would have to use a lot more, which costs more. Having said that, it is widely used by pizza and flatbread manufacturers.

Solution 2: The enzyme protease is much cheaper. It relaxes the dough by breaking down the proteins, which loses gas retention in the dough.

Drawbacks: It is trickier to use. Because it’s an enzyme, it will continue to work, breaking down proteins until it is deactivated during baking. This is not the end of the world if you have a carefully controlled process and you can be confident that, from mixing to baking, it will always take the same time and the same temperature. If your process is not that carefully controlled, avoid it like the plague!



Used for dough strengthening to give volume, they stabilise systems using water and oil. Generally, they bind with starch; one part of the molecule attaches to the fat and the other to the water. This stabilises the bubbles that form in the dough. For example, when you over-prove, without an emulsifier, the dough will flop down because there is nothing holding the bubbles together.


Data or Datem (E472e)

or to give them their full name, diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono and di glycerides of fatty acids phew! It works by bonding to gluten and stabilises the liquid film around gas cells. It increases gas retention, which results in a closer texture, brighter crumb, more volume, oven spring and proof tolerance. It is used in white bread (lower protein flours); morning goods (where a high volume or long proof is required); and wholemeal, multi-grain and seeded breads. Many different compounds are possible and they vary in functionality and physical state (liquid, pastilles, flakes or powder).


Sodium stearoyl lactylate or SSL (E481)

This is less complex than E472e and comes in powder form and controls oven spring. It also improves gas retention and offers a soft eating bread with a longer shelf-life. It is mainly used in semi-rich and rich yeasted goods and it can be combined with E472e.

Solution: Lipase enzymes can now work on fats in the dough to produce emulsifiers, and give the improvement in volume and internal texture that is a pretty good replacement to E472e or E481. From a cost perspective, they are similar to emulsifiers.


Monoglycerides (E471)

This is another emulsifier crumb softener that retards staling. It comes in powder, paste and hydrate forms the latter being most effective. E471 is most effective over the first three days, but it can lead to a weaker crumb.

Solution: Enzymes that reduce staling can be found in the category of amylases. Heat-stable amylases work on the damaged starch and gelatinising starch in your dough to produce the sugars that yeast loves. It breaks down the starch, reducing the starch’s ability to form crystals, which make bread hard and is the characteristic of staling. The special amylases for anti-staling are activated later in the process than the alpha amylases that are typically found in bread improvers, to stop crystals forming in bread which then cause staling.

Drawbacks: There are two types available those derived from GM sources and non-GM versions. The non-GM version has a negative effect on crumb resilience, which is why many people use the other.



Calcium Propionate (E282)

This is used for an anti-mould effect and will typically give one to three extra days’ shelf-life.

Solution 1: Vinegar is the classic alternative, as used for example in Hovis crumpets. It reduces the dough pH level, therefore making the likelihood of the bread being susceptible to microbial degradation.

Drawbacks: It is nowhere near as effective as E282. It reduces dough water absorption and affects taste and aroma.

Solution 2: Fermented carbohydrates (fermented wheat flour, wheat starch or whey protein) have started to be used in recent years. In fermenting, they produce certain organic acids, which have an anti-microbial effect, which will increase the shelf-life of bread. It also changes the flavour some say it enhances it.

Drawbacks: You need to use a lot of it up to four times as much as E282. However, the price implication is not great and higher-concentrate products are emerging.


Soya flour

Typically an ingredient in bread improvers, soya flour contains the enzyme lipoxygenase. It actually makes the bread whiter by bleaching the naturally occurring carotenoid in the wheat. It contains the emulsifier lecithin and is high in protein, which can help the dough. There are allergen considerations, which some retailers are keen to avoid. But while bakers are being drawn to making clean-label products, it’s a useful tool in the armoury. Ascorbic acid has a synergistic effect when used with soya flour.


As you can see, it is a complicated issue. So the best advice is to speak to your customers to find out what they will accept in your products. Contact your ingredients supplier to navigate the tricky path to cleaner labels.




Clean label claims


No artificial flavours or preservatives

No specific claims, but not using artificial preservatives in bread products

No specific claims




Position on additives


Policy is to minimise the use of food additives and to use natural additives wherever possible. 99% of foods free from artificial colours and flavourings

Do not use any artificial additives in own-brand food and drink unless it is essential

Policy to keep the use of additives to a minimum. First supermarket to target additive reduction in frozen and chilled ready meals through ’Kitchen Cupboard Guarantee’

Permits the use of appropriate additives only where necessary and seeks to use natural alternatives whenever possible




What is a bread improver?


A blend of functional ingredients, additives and processing aids formulated to fulfil customer requirements, which may: increase or control gas production; increase or control gas retention; modify dough mixing rheology; modify pan flow or moulding characteristics.
Improvers typically contain: emulsifiers; fats; soya flour; flour treatment agents (oxidants); and enzymes.




What is ’clean label’?


This is an industry term, generally meaning no ingredients which have to be labelled with an E-number. Those typically used in baking include emulsifiers, such as Data Ester (E472e), distilled monoglyceride (E471) and SSL (E481); preservatives such as Calcium Propionate (E282); flour treatment agents such as L-Cysteine (E920); colours and often artificial or so-called nature-identical flavours.
It is important to ask exactly what your customer will and will not allow. Most customers will allow ascorbic acid (E300). ’Cleaner labels’ are shorter, with fewer E-numbers. In bread-making the main focus is on removing artificial preservatives, emulsifiers and L-cysteine hydrochloride.




Enzymes: what are they?


Enzymes are proteins that catalyse reactions. They work on substrates (primarily from flour) in the dough and normally break down the substrate into smaller units by cleaving specific bonds. These breakdown products have the beneficial effect on the dough/bread NOT the enzyme.
The enzyme is not used up in the reaction it will continue to work given the correct conditions (time, temperature, pH and sufficient substrate) and variations in dough processing times will change the effect of enzymes. However, it is claimed they are deactivated in baking. These include amylases (derived from malt flour, fungal and bacterial sources), hemicellulases and protease.