whole bagels

Surfactants improve texture, volume, crumb strength, and crumb firmness in bread products.


Also known as a Surface Active Agent

What is a Surfactant?

A surfactant is an amphipathic compound that is used to reduce the interfacial tension among liquids, solids, and gases. In the baking industry, surfactants are used as foaming agents,  wetting agents, and emulsifiers, and to spare fat, improve texture, and prolong shelf life.


Surfactants can be either produced from chemical synthesis or extracted from biomaterials.


Surfactants have a hydrophilic head and a hydrophobic tail in the same molecule. The hydrophilic head associates with the aqueous phase and the hydrophobic tail associates with the lipid, or air phase. Surfactants have different hydrophilic heads and hydrophobic tails. That is the reason they function differently. Surfactants are commonly classified by the ratio of hydrophilic-to-lipophilic groups within the surfactant molecule (hydrophilic-lipophilic balance, or HLB) or by the potential for ionization in aqueous systems.

Chemical structure of the surfactant glycerol monostearate baking ingredients emulsifiers surfacant

Chemical structure of the surfactant glycerol monostearate.

The ability of surfactants to improve bread volume and to produce longer crumb freshness is comparable to the effects usually attained by adding shortening.1 Below are the benefits of using surfactants:1

  • Increase dough strength and improve dough handling
  • Improve rate of hydration and water absorption
  • Increase the resistance to dough extension
  • Increase tolerance to resting time, shock, and fermentation
  • Improve crumb structure and crumb thickness
  • Improve slicking characteristics of bread
  • Improve bread loaf volume, especially in weak flour
  • Extend bread shelf life
  • Improve product quality in gluten-free and high-fiber baked goods

No one surfactant can bring all these benefits.

Surfactants can be divided roughly into dough strengtheners and crumb softeners, although some can be both.1 The possible mechanism of surfactants as dough strengtheners is that the surfactant associates with both hydrophilic and hydrophobic parts of proteins and promotes formation of the gluten network.2 The theory behind surfactants as crumb softeners is that the surfactant interacts with starch, retarding the retrogradation process.2


Emulsifier Crumb Softening Dough Strengthening
Lecithin Good None
Diacetyl tartaric acid esters of monodiglycerides (DATEM) Fair Excellent
Sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate (SSL) Very good Excellent
Calcium stearoyl-2-lactylate (CSL) Good+ Excellent
Distilled Monodiglycerides (DMG) Excellent None
Ethoxylated monoglycerides (EMG) Poor Very good
Sucrose esters of fatty acids (SE) Good Excellent
Polysorbate-60 (Poly-60) Fair Very good


FDA regulation

As of August 18, 2017, the FDA had listed one wetting agent, five foaming agents, and twenty-three emulsifiers as GRAS.3


  1. Stampfli, L., and B. Nersten. “Emulsifiers in Bread Making.” Food Chemistry, vol. 52, 1995, pp. 353–360.
  2. Kohajdovά, Z., et al. “Significance of Emulsifiers and Hydrocolloids in Bakery Industry.” Acta Chimica Slovaca, vol. 2, 2009, pp. 46–61.
  3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. “GRAS Notices.” Accessdata.fda.gov, 18 Aug. 2017, www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/fdcc/?set=GRASNotices&sort=GRN_No&order=DESC&startrow=1&type=column&search=Intended Use%C2%A4VARCHAR%C2%A4emulsifier. Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.