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Why do we use bread improvers?

Sonneveld supplies raw materials to bakeries around the world. These are mainly improvers for confectionery goods and bread, and solvents to retrieve baked products from baking tins. What are these improvers in bread and what are they used for?


Why do we use bread improvers?

An improver is used to improve the bread in texture (in baking terms, the tenderness of the bread), colour, taste and composition. A baker has to deliver fresh bread every day and when using auxiliary substances, it reduces problems in the baking process. A bread improver enables the baker to create a trouble-free processing and ease in dosing, even when facing a wide range of bread, the complexity of the baking process (kneading, first rising of the bread, preparation, second rising, baking, cooling, cutting) and the differences in skills of the employees.

Fast production
Almost every traditional and industrial baker uses a limited range of equipment while baking a wide range of breads, running a number of recipes in sequence. If something goes wrong with one dough (for example, the dough is too sticky, has no or too much volume, goes dark or causes trouble when cutting), the remainder of production line also runs into trouble. This causes a number of lost production hours, and the bakery can't deliver. In the Netherlands, we mostly consume freshly baked bread. The time between baking and selling is often less than 24 hours. Problems in the production line are disastrous for both baker and customer. That day is lost, and in the meantime, preparations have to be made for the next day.

What do bread improvers do?
Emulsifiers such as DATEM (E472e), monoglyceride (E471) and calcium stearoyl lactylate (CSL, or E482) have a positive effect on the processing quality, floury texture and tenderness. These emulsifiers ensure that the gas bubbles are trapped in the dough during kneading and rising and provide a nice floury texture. Emulsifiers can be left out, but this creates a technological risk because the 'tolerance' of the dough decreases. This results in quality fluctuations and it affects how well the bread can be cut. Some bakeries can omit emulsifiers, others don't due to the fact that their baking equipment cannot handle fluctuations very well.

Salt replacement
Bread improvers may also be used to reduce the quantity of another ingredient, such as salt. Salt has an effect on the taste, yet also creates a less sticky dough and a better development of the dough. A decade ago, we have demonstrated at the European Bakery Innovation Centre, Sonneveld's open innovation centre, that we can reduce the amount of salt in bread while maintaining processing properties. Customers could not tell the difference in taste. This can be achieved by using enzymes and ascorbic acid (vitamin C; E300).

Cysteine and alternatives for smooth dough
Substances are used to make dough smoother, making it easier for the dough to pass the bread production line. In the past, bakers used cysteine, a structural component of proteins. The story goes that cysteine is made of human hair. This type of cysteine can't be used, it has been banned in Europe since 2002. Sonneveld only uses cysteine that is produced by fermentation. There is also an animal source of cysteine (pig hair or duck/chicken feathers); however, Sonneveld also does not use this type. The cysteine we use is purchased in Japan or Germany. Nowadays, as a result of discussions in the media and the wishes of our customers, we have replaced the cysteine in our bread improvers by enzymes or inactive yeast.

What else can we use as bread improver?
Depending on the application, a bread improver differs in composition and may consist of just a couple to 25 ingredients. These can be EU-approved raw materials (E numbers), but increasingly include raw materials that do not have any E number. According to the legislation, there are only ten E numbers that can be used for bread making, and these can only be used to a limited extent.

Vitamin C: ascorbic acid
Ascorbic acid is an important raw material used for the dough properties and the volume of bread. Ascorbic acid reacts with the protein in dough and forms a network that can hold in the gas bubbles during rising and baking. This network ensures a better cohesion, less stickiness and a larger bread volume. Other important bread improvers are the emulsifiers mentioned before and fibres such as guar gum (E412) and xanthan gum (E415). Guar gum comes from the seeds of the guar plant; xanthan gum comes from a bacterium.

Without E number
Due to the large customer and consumer demand for E number-free products (and thus products with a clean label), we have developed a wide range of E number-free improvers. These include wheat fibre, betaglucan from oats and inulin from Jerusalem artichoke. A large part of the E numbers can be replaced by enzymes that split carbohydrates (amylase = starch splitting and hemicellulase = hemicellulose splitting), split fats (lipase) or crosslink proteins (glucose oxidase). Finally, improvers may also contain natural substances such as herb extracts (curcuma extracts for a yellow colour), malt for a darker colour, and nutrients such as vegetable fibres, vitamins and minerals.

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