Traditionally made breads undergoing a long fermentation allowed enough time for naturally occurring enzymes in wheat flour to break down the starches into sugars. With today’s faster pace and higher demand for bread many commercial bakeries utilize the catalytic power of enzymes to improve the texture of bread and extend shelf life.
Enzymes can be used in place of chemical additives creating a cleaner label and removing ingredients that consumers don’t trust.
Enzymes are proteins that occur naturally in plants, animals and microorganism or may be industrially produced using genetic engineering. α-Amylase was the first commercial enzyme and is commonly added to flour at the mill to standardize performance.1 It provides yeast with a consistent source of sugars for fermentation and darkens the crust color from increased sugars.1 It was a great enzyme to add to the baker’s tool belt since it occurs naturally in wheat. In Canada, China, the EU, Japan, Mexico and the US, enzymes are regulated as food additives and used as processing aids.4
They were first introduced to the food industry in 1958. When used in bread manufacturing the enzyme remains present in the final product as a non-active denatured protein and does not have any activity in the final product.1 Because all enzymes used in baking are destroyed in the oven at temperatures over 45oC (113oF ), it is treated as a processing aid, and not required to be declared on the label. With a consumer push for transparency in labeling and anti GMO sentiment this puts the use of enzymes in baked goods under fire.
Should consumers be concerned about enzymes?
One of the major concerns in food production is food safety. We would not stay in business if we produced food that caused illness or even death. One of the biggest concerns over the lack of labeling for processing aids and enzymes in particular has to do with allergy risks. Avoiding allergic reactions upon food consumption is a must. Some allergens like peanuts, soy, milk, wheat gluten, etc. require specific precautions in food manufacturing and are subject to specific labeling. The source of allergens are proteins in those foods. Enzymes – regardless whether these are naturally occurring or industrially produced – are proteins. Could consumers that eat bread containing enzymes be at risk?
It has been proven by clinical studies that ingestion of enzymes used in bread manufacturing are of no concern with regard to food allergy.
An extensive Danish clinical study proves that even consumers that have a reaction to respiratory allergens, food allergen, bee or wasp, did not show allergic reactions upon digestion of commercially available food enzymes.2 The aim of the study was to investigate the safety to allergic patients of 19 commercially available enzymes used in the food industry. The study was unable to find clinical relevance of allergic reactions or food allergies due to the ingestion of food enzymes.2
Could the real issue be about consumer trust around food labeling and transparency?
According to the FDA, enzymes are GRAS.3 They are considered processing aids which are defined as follows:4
- Substances that are added to a food during the processing of such food but are removed in some manner from the food before it is packaged in its finished form.
- Substances that are added to a food during processing, are converted into constituents normally present in the food, and do not significantly increase the amount of the constituents naturally found in the food.
- Substances that are added to a food for their technical or functional effect in the processing but are present in the finished food at insignificant levels and do not have any technical or functional effect in that food.
Commercial bakers are not trying to mislead consumers. When processing aids are not required to be labeled most companies do not voluntarily add them. If consumers are unsure about the safety of the ingredients we use in production of their food we need to educate them. Enzymes are denatured and deactivated at a certain pH and temperature, which renders its function useless. All kinds used in baking are destroyed in the oven.
- “Enzymes | Baking Ingredients.” Bakerpedia. https://bakerpedia.com/ingredients/enzymes/. Accesses 19 June 2017.
- Carsten Bindslev-Jensen, Per Stahl Skov, Erwin L. Roggen, Peter Hvass, Ditte Sidelmann Brinch, Investigation On Possible Allergenicity Of 19 Different Commercial Enzymes Used In The Food Industry, Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 44, Issue 11, 2006, Pages 1909-1915, ISSN 0278-6915, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2006.06.012 (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691506001700) Accessed 19 June 2017.
- “Enzyme Preparations Used in Food (Partial List).” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/gras/enzymepreparations/default.htm. And www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=101.100 Accessed 20 June 2017.
- Magnuson, Bernadene, Ian Munro, Peter Abbot, Nigel Baldwin, Rebeca Lopez-Garcia, Karen Ly, Larry McGirr, Ashley Roberts, and Susan Socolovsky. “Review of the Regulation and Safety Assessment of Food Substances in Various Countries and Jurisdictions.” Food Additives & Contaminants. Part A, Chemistry, Analysis, Control, Exposure & Risk Assessment. Taylor & Francis, 30 July 2013. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3725665/. Accessed 20 June 2017.