Bread has been made since the dawn of civilisation – in fact, it can be argued that bread is the foundation stone of civilisation as we know it, and it still forms part of the staple diet of millions of people around the world; every day thousands of children ask for their daily bread when reciting the Lord’s prayer. But what is it exactly that they’re actually praying for? If they knew then they may well have second thoughts.
The Key Ingredients for Bread
The basic ingredients for bread have remained unchanged for generations:
- wheat flour
- vegetable oil
Many breads also contain a certain amount of soya flour, and that’s because it:
- add protein to the bread (thereby giving it a higher nutritional value)
- improves the consistency of the bread
And finally, many breads contain flavouring – that may, for example, be malt, spices or extracts derived from the natural yeast fermentation
However, a quick read of the ingredient list for any top of the range, off the shelf bread will show that it contains more than just the basic ingredients.
The Lesser Known Ingredients for Bread
If any shoppers have a strong pair of glasses with them then they may find that there is more that just flour in their bread:
- preservative calcium propionate
- flour treatment agents
- Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)
The key question is, of course, what does all of that mean?
Calcium Propionate is used to inhibit mould growth in bread – meaning that the bread has a much longer shelf life; however, as well as being toxic to mould, calcium propionate can also be toxic to humans with a few possible side effects:
- migraine and headaches
- stomach upsets
- skin rashes and nasal congestion
- depression, tiredness and irritability
- restlessness and inattention
E471: Mono and Di-glycerides of Fatty Acids
There are no known side effects to using the emulsifier E471 (although it is a fat, and so will be absorbed into the body); however, it is the source of the substance that’s of interest, not what it does. E471 has two primary sources:
- hydrogenated vegetable oils
- animal fats
The result is that although bread is labelled as suitable for vegetarians, it may actually contain animal products.
E481: Sodium Stearoyl Lactate
Like E471 there are no known side effects to using E481, but like E471 it is derived from hydrogenated vegetable oils and animal fats.
E920 is perhaps the most surprising of the additives; again, not because of what it does, but because of where it comes from; the two main sources of E920 are:
- animal fat (often pork)
- human hair
Alternatives to Bread with Additives
It is, of course, possible to obtain bread without additives:
- use local bakeries – the bread is usually of better quality and only a little more expensive than the off the shelf bread
- invest in a bread maker – these are cheap to buy and easy to use and above all, provide low cost, but high quality, bread; and, if nothing else, make any house smell wonderful.
Pesticide Action Network Pesticide Database
Food Intolerance Network Factsheets
Wageningen University Food-info.net