A Food & Travel Blog

Bread Ingredients – Do you Wonder What’s in Your Bread? You should!

01/06/2019 | By

If you’re not a baker you’re probably unaware of general bread ingredients – but maybe it’s time we all started paying attention to what is on our plates.

bread ingredients, Fresh Bread

Hello dearest reader – I’m home again after quite a long trip, and have so much to share with you from both Turkey and Southern Italy.  But, now that I’m finally coming through to the other side of some of the worst jet lag I’ve ever experienced, I wanted to share some thoughts with you on bread ingredients, while it’s all still fresh in my mind – if not on the shelf.

The other day I shared a news story on my Facebook account. From The Guardian, it was about bread ingredients which are banned in Europe, but found in many US breads. The article asserted that, in the US, a loaf of bread “can contain ingredients with industrial applications – additives that also appear in things like yoga mats, pesticides, hair straighteners, explosives and petroleum products.'”

I think you’ll probably agree that this is alarming. Bread is one of those things that many of us take for granted. We grab it off the shelf as we whizz around the supermarket and rely on it as a quick, convenient, dependable food to fill lunch boxes and empty tummies.

(And before you start to mutter about empty calories, carbs and gluten, I’m not  addressing those issues today so if that’s your jam you might as well go off and make yourself a cup of tea right now.)

I’ve baked a lot of bread in my life and I can tell you a basic loaf has very few ingredients – flour, water, yeast (if it’s not sourdough) and salt. That’s it.

Sourdough, Bread Ingredients

But …

A quick look at the ingredient list of a few well-known brands of bread on the supermarket shelf tells a slightly different story. While commercially produced Australian bread might not contain petroleum products or foam expander ( to be honest I don’t even know what those ingredients are), it still has more ingredients than you’d expect – and in some cases, one or two that are a little obscure (acacia gum?!).

Real bread goes stale within a day or two, but commercial bread is made to have a long shelf life. This is achieved with various preservatives and additives. These can affect texture and flavour, so the bread is then tweaked a little with even more additives. I checked the labels on some of the plain white loaves in my local supermarket and, while there was nothing scary that I could see, none of them had less than 12 ingredients – and that includes the rustic, crusty looking loaf that one might be excused for thinking was the most authentic.

BREAD Ingredients

Bread is a classic example of a simple food subverted by commercial imperatives. Manufacturers are looking to create commercial food products that have shelf life, will travel well, and appear to have most of the properties of the food it’s modelled on, at commercially viable prices. And if they can get it to approximate the taste of the real thing they think they’re on a winner.

Sometimes that  can be done with minimal intervention, but frequently it’s achieved with more and more chemical additives, creating Frankenfoods – foods that look and possibly even taste like the real deal, but with a scary ingredient list that bears no resemblance to a homemade recipe for the same thing.

Like adding foam expander to bread.

I get it – not all of us have the urge to bake our own bread. And I also get that a large proportion of  the population aren’t in a position to check food labels as they are dragging through the supermarket, exhausted after a day at work, with a couple of distracted kids in tow and worries about household budgets on their minds.

List of Bread Ingredients

Nothing too scary here, but still a lot of ingredients for plain white bread.

It’s a simple fact of life that most consumers don’t have the time, energy or knowledge to interrogate the food they buy, relying on brands they trust to provide a safe, nutritious product for their family. 

That this trust is so often misplaced is also an unfortunate fact of life.

But a growing number of us are in a position to impact the commercial food industry. Increasingly people like you, dear reader, are thinking hard about our food. We’re interested in where it comes from and concerned about how it’s produced.  It’s up to those of us care, to check the labels, ask the questions and vote with our purchases. 

We all eat, folks – but if we don’t stay on our guard, who knows what will end up on our plates.

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  1. Peggy Bright

    I’ve made most of our bread since the early 1980s. For the last five or six years, 90 per cent of it has been sourdough. If you get yourself in a routine, it’s so easy and not time-consuming.

  2. Amanda

    I totally agree Peggy – I began making all of our bread when my kids were all tiny, and I was probably at my busiest. There’s not much hands-on time in bread making.

  3. Jean (Cookie)

    Thank goodness I make all our bread, both sourdough and yeasted.

  4. Larry Jacobs

    Peggy – I believe that the whole upsurge in demand for ‘Gluten-free’ breads probably has less to do with gluten sensitivity. But rather to do with the extraneous ingredients that should not be in bread.

  5. Peggy Bright

    Larry — I agree completely. I’ve just spent three months travelling overland with 22 people in West Africa. Two claimed to be gluten-intolerant, but funnily enough they could eat the bread available there. No doubt because it’s made of the basic ingredients.

  6. Fiona Ryan

    Well ‘aint that the truth? Welcome back and I’m glad the jet lag has finally subsided.

  7. Mae

    Hi Amanda,
    I’ve answered your comments at my blog, and now have come here to let you know that the communication channels seem to be clear! I moderate comments on my blog, so they don’t appear immediately after they are sent, which may make it seem as if they have disappeared.

    Of course I also read here about your research on bread and commercial ingredients beyond the traditional flour, water, salt, and yeast. My understanding is that the motive for longer shelf life is important, but so is the commercial baker’s desire to speed up the process — that is, to avoid long rising times. Many of the additives enable this speedy violation of tradition! At least as far as I understand.

    A local bakery where I live — Zingerman’s which is well-known in many parts of the US as they also sell by mail-order — uses traditional methods, and their opinion is that long rising times enable traditional bread to have a longer shelf life! Also, of course, making large round loaves as in traditional country French bread, which has to last because people live far from the bakeries. But the profit motive has overtaken bakeries everywhere.

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  8. Fran @ G'day Souffle'

    Foam expander? I spend a lot of time in the US so I’ll definitely have to check the bread ingredients there! I can understand them adding some preservatives, though to expand the shelf life.

  9. Liz Posmyk

    I don’t think bread from the supermarket is even labelled as “bread” these days… all those weird ingredients is why they refer to it as “loaf”.

  10. Katie Warner

    Hi Amanda, this is so timely I recently bought a loaf from Coles new look Bakery and had a very bad allergic reaction..three days of steroids to get over it. It looked like an artisan loaf but comes in par baked and they finish the last 20 mins. The baker also told me that the other loaves that they bake in store include additives. They were advertising no additives or preservatives but they have reverted to reintroducing them. I should note I have been tested for all natural foods and I am not allergic to anything. I am allergic to these additives used to artificially extend the life of food or enhance flavour…additives that in Australia we are unable to test for to ascertain which one specifically is the culprit.

  11. Amanda

    I’d definitely be checking the contents of bread in the US, Fran!

  12. Amanda

    I wonder where the par-baked loaves actually originate from. Are they even made in Australia?

  13. Amanda

    Interesting – might be worth asking some questions.