Clean Label2019-05-13T15:32:11-07:00
A clean label offers simplicity in the ingredient statement of commercial food products.

A clean label offers simplicity in the ingredient statement of commercial food products.

Clean Label

What is a clean label?

A clean label in baking is the ability to produce a product without chemicals or with a simple ingredient label. Since there is no FDA definition for clean label, it can mean different things to different people. The aspects of a clean label are:

  • A simple and short ingredient list
  • Ingredients that are “all natural” and contain no chemicals, no artificial preservatives, color agents, or flavor agents
  • Minimally processed ingredients
  • Ingredients that are easy to understand

Where did this trend come from?

With consumers paying more attention to health and wellness, they tend to question their food sources. Therefore, this trend arose from consumers wanting to easily understand ingredients on their food labels.  Clean label has become a consumer trend, which also provides the opportunity for food manufacturers to market their newly developed “clean labeled” products.

Is there a standard list of ingredients?

There is no identifiable standard list of ingredients for clean labels, because the consumer definition of a clean label product keeps evolving. However, there is a general consensus of what to look for. Simplicity is a major cue to the ingredient statement. In addition to simplicity, a label lacking chemical influence and artificial preservatives, colors or flavors identifies a ‘clean’ product, compared to similar labels packed with artificial ingredients and chemicals.

Clean label products aim to market to consumers focusing on a healthy lifestyle and consuming only wholesome, nutritious food to provide energy while removing any unnatural elements of food from consumption. For example, one in 10 new products launched in 2014 in the United States had an “organic” claim, and new products labeled with a “GMO-free” launched globally grew more than 40% in 2014 with no signs of slowing.3

Approaches to clean label

One of the main approaches to achieve the chemical replacement objectives is to rely on enzymes.  Enzymes are functional proteins made by plants, animals, and/or microorganisms. They also exist in all the natural food we consume, such as fruits, vegetables, fishes, meats, etc.  There are many different enzymes that exist in nature, each having unique functionalities.  By learning the functionalities of these enzymes, bakers can develop optimized enzymatic solutions that will allow them to replace the chemicals and achieve clean label objectives.

A lesser traveled road to clean label is through the use of hydrocolloids. Xanthan gum and alginate have the most pronounced effect on dough properties yielding strengthened dough.1

What ingredients are not considered ‘clean’ and what alternatives are there to these ingredients? For bakery products, there are many functional ingredients which are considered as “not clean.” Here are some examples:

  • ADA
  • potassium lodate
  • calcium peroxide
  • benzyl peroxide (flour bleaching agent)
  • emulsifiers (DATEM, sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium stearoyl lactylate, ethoxylated mono- and di-glycerides, PGME, polysorbate, mono- and di-glycerol, etc.)
  • calcium propionate
  • sorbic acid
  • artificial flavor agents
  • artificial color agents
  • partially hydrogenated oil
  • high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)

Here are several examples of the alternatives that can be used to produce clean label baking products:

Natural mold inhibitors
There are two kinds of natural mold inhibitors based on the difference of their mold of action. The first category is by reducing dough pH. Examples are vinegar, prune juice concentrate, raisin paste concentrate, cultured whey products, cultured wheat or corn syrup products. The second category is by disrupting cellular membrane and cellular processes. Examples are cinnamon, clove and natamycin.4

Here are two examples of using hydrocolloid gum. One is using gum to enhance the properties of natural starch. Native starches are chemically modified to improve their tolerance to processing conditions. The increase in consumer concerns to synthetic chemicals have led to strong preference for clean label starches. But native starches alone have a low process tolerance for commercial manufacturing. Lipids and hydrocolloids are food friendly chemicals.

A combination of stearic acid and xanthan gum produce higher viscosity. The addition of non-gelling starches and xanthan gum increases physical stability for freezing and better structural recovery after shear.5

The other example is to use gum to decrease fat content in bakery products. Guar and xanthan gums are used to replace fat in cakes and muffins. A functional hydrocolloid ingredient derived from flax seeds also provides a natural substitute for sugar and xanthan gums, to successfully replace up to 30% of the fat in sponge cake.6

Enzymes can be used to enhance the quality of high fiber baking products. Various kinds of high fiber ingredients have been used to enrich wheat flour to produce high fiber bread, like wheat bran, soy fiber, chickpea flour, oat fiber, barley flour, brewer’s spent grain, corn bran, etc. Carbohydrase can be used to degrade the fortified polysaccharides and decrease its negative effect on the bread quality.7-8

The current solutions at hand are mainly enzyme based.  Together with other physical methods like using aged flour, sourdough and longer fermentation times through sponge and doughs may help alleviate the need to use chemicals.2


  1. Rosell, C.M, J.A Rojas, and C Benedito de Barber. “Influence of hydrocolloids on dough rheology and bread quality.” Food Hydrocolloids 15.1 (2001): 75-81.
  2. Moroni, Alice V., Fabio Dal Bello, and Elke K. Arendt. “Sourdough in gluten-free bread-making: An ancient technology to solve a novel issue?.” Food Microbiology 26.7 (2009): 676-684.
  3. “Trend of the Year: Clean Label.” FoodBusinessNews, 2015. Web. Accessed 05 Dec. 2016.
  4. Renee Alberts-Nelson. “Clean Label Mold Inhibitors for Baking”. Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension FAPC-173, 2010.
  5. Maphalla, Thabelang Gladys, and Mohammad Naushad Emmambux. “Functionality of Maize, Wheat, Teff and Cassava Starches with Stearic Acid and Xanthan Gum.” Carbohydrate Polymers 136 (2016): 970-78. Print.
  6. Eslava-Zomeño, Cristina, Amparo Quiles, and Isabel Hernando. “Designing a Clean Label Sponge Cake with Reduced Fat Content.” Journal of Food Science 81.10 (2016): C2352-C2359.
  7. Singh, Narpinder, K. Harinder, K. S. Sekhon, and Bhupinder Kaur. “Studies on the Improvement of Functional and Baking Properties of Wheat-Chickpea Flour Blends.” Journal of Food Processing and Preservation 15.6 (1991): 391-402.
  8. Jacobs, Morrison S., Marta S. Izydorczyk, Ken R. Preston, and Jim E. Dexter. “Evaluation of Baking Procedures for Incorporation of Barley Roller Milling Fractions Containing High Levels of Dietary Fibre into Bread.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 88.4 (2008): 558-68.


  1. Ernesto Cabezas July 2, 2017 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the info on clean label. Our industry must be aware of the options available in order to evolve to a healthier, fresher and tastier offering.

  2. Ofelia Hammond February 27, 2018 at 7:31 am - Reply

    Great information! As the industry discovers more alternatives, producers and consumers benefit!

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