The Top 20 Ingredients Used in Bread [miniseries part 3]

In the previous posts we provided general guidelines for choosing bread and discussed whole grains.

Today we’ll take a look at the other ingredients in bread. To do this, we analyzed the ingredient lists of over 2,000 breads.  The average list had  20-25 ingredients! That’s 5 times more ingredients than you need for a basic bread (flour, water, yeast, salt). It’s important to note, some ingredients, such as dough conditioners used in tiny amounts are not required to be labeled!

Here then, is a list of the most common bread ingredients, with brief explanations where required.

1. Flour - Less than half of the breads included whole wheat flour, the rest were refined or enriched flours.

2. Salt – required for flavor and to balance the fermentation by the yeast. See #4.

3. Water – try baking bread without it ;-)

4. Yeast- yeast is a living organism. It ferments the carbs in dough and converts them to carbon dioxide, which makes the dough rise.

5. Vitamins & minerals – this is what’s added to refined flour  – Vitmin B1 (thiamin), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (niacin), folic acid, and iron. Whole grain flours do not need the addition because they contain these nutrient and more in the bran and germ. In fact, enrichment means returning that which hath been stripped away through the refinement of the wheat…

6. Soybean oil – oil or fats used in bread make the crumb (texture) more tender and rich in flavor (and calories!) They also extend shelf life to some extent, preventing the bread from going stale. Soybean is the cheapest possible oil, and thus is used most. If you prepare your own loaf – try olive oil.

7. Wheat gluten -  Gluten increases the dough’s ability to rise. It also increases the bread’s structural stability and chewiness. Although gluten is naturally present in flour, it requires substantial kneading to be released.  Adding wheat gluten is a shortcut.

8. Calcium sulfate – better known as plaster of Paris – is a clear white rock found in nature. Used here as a dough conditioner. Commercial bakeries employ various dough conditioners for several reasons: (1) to shorten dough rising times (2) to increase shelf life and (3) make the dough easier for their machinery to process.
9. Mono and di-glycerides, ethoxylated mono and di-glycerides – derived from animal or plant sources, these additives have multiple roles – they are dough conditioners (improve texture, increase volume), emulsifiers, and release agents (make it easier to get the bread out of the baking pan). A dough conditioner

10. High-fructose corn syrup – many breads employ a sweetener to improve taste as well as help the dough rise. (Yeast love sugar – they ferment it to create carbon dioxide which is what makes the bread rise. HFCS is the cheapest sugar, and that is why manufacturers use it.
11. Calcium propionate – a preservative that inhibits mold and bacterial growth. Considered safe, but in the early 1990′s it was linked to attention deficit disorder in children.

12. Soy lecithin – a very popular additive that helps bind the various ingredients in the bread, improves shelf life and also helps. Read more on soy lecithin.
13. Sodium stearoyl lactylate – used as an emulsifier used as a dough conditioner. It maintains texture, increase the volume of the loaf, keeps fats mixed well with the dough, and serves as a humectant, to absorb more water per loaf (cheapest ingredient is water!). It is also slightly sweet.
14. Monocalcium phosphate – a leavening agent and preservative.

15. Enzymes – decrease the time it takes dough to rise. The two most popular enzymes used are Amylase and Protease.
16. Ammonium sulfate - food for yeast. Helps the dough rise faster.

17. Ascorbic acid – this is vitmin C. It’s not added for your health, but rather to create a slightly acidic environment for the yeast to ferment more effectively, thus decreasing the time it takes the dough to rise (sound familiar?)
18. Honey

19. Azodicarbonamide – another dough conditioner. It also bleaches the flour (makes it whiter). It’s considered safe in the US at up to 45 parts per million, but is banned from use in Europe because studies showed it could cause asthma or allergic reactions.

20. DATEM – an acronym for Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Monoglycerides. Another dough conditioner used to improve volume and uniformity. It is considered safe by the FDA, but a study in 2002, on rats, showed “heart muscle fibrosis and adrenal overgrowth”.


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monocalcium phosphate
  • Tobi

    thanks for this information. I am astounded every time I buy bread at the number of ingredients and how many loaves I have to pick up to find one that is remotely healthy. Can you elaborate more on what each of these ingredients actually is (ie, where it comes from, what it is made from, etc.). I love knowing what the ingredients do, but I still don’t know what some of them actually are.
    Thanks for this great blog!

  • The Table of Promise

    This is a very impressive post. To have this list of what the items are and what they do specifically in bread is HUGE! It makes it very clear that most major manufacturers are more interested in an efficient quick rise and boosting taste through additives.
    Thank you so much for this.

  • Joanna

    Informative post as usual. I learned a lot. It is so hard to know about all of the food additives out there. I’m thinking of getting a book about it.

  • roger

    Mono and di-glycerides, datem, are remnants of transfat…. avoid these ingredients at all costs!

  • candice

    Thanks for this post! Since I stumbled on this blog I have really become inspired to educate others about what I learn here. You are doing a great job, thanks for breaking everything down! My new goal is to inspire my generation (the twenty-somethings) to really know their food, and make more of it themselves. Thanks for giving me the motivation and tools to help me along my journey!

  • Carol

    Enriched wheat flour has much more folate than is in whole wheat flour (almost 3x), and generally the other B vitamins are present at higher levels than in the unrefined flour. No fiber is added back when enriching, although not all is removed/lost in the refining process. The naturally-occurring fats that are lost also are not replaced, so it is best to keep whole grain flours refrigerated — to retard rancidity.

  • Respectchichi

    Wow thanks for this post it really helped me in writting my projec and giving me a big knowledge about bread.

  • Lydia

    I’m astonished! Plaster of Paris?? I am amazed that I can make bread out of five ingredients when every loaf I pick up at the store seemingly has 64! (Maybe a slight exasperated exaggeration.) Thanks for the info.

  • Naturegirl00001

    I never realized how bad the stuff is that is put into our food until I ended up in the ER.  I ate a bread called Healthy Life and it contained sugar cane fibers which is also called bagasse and is a WASTE product.  There is a mold that grows on this and after eating the bread for 7 months I developed the lung disease bagassosis.  When I contacted Healthy Life bread they said that they are not responsible for me developing an allergy to the mold in their bread and I told them that if I had known about this mold I would not have eaten it.  They did take the sugar cane fibers out claiming that they had problems with it.  But there are other foods that still contain this ingredient.   

  • r

    thanx very much i did my homework from this

  • George Davey

    Whole grains do not provide trace nutrients as you suggest. You will die of mal nutrition if you eat unsuplemented grains. This is why they supplement them with vitamins and minerals. This is why animals fed grains (whole grains) must also get supplements. This basic knowledge should be well known by now. Just proved to me bloggers are getting duped by food companies just like the rest of us into believing grains magically developed vitamins that they did not and many other myths about food.

    • Edward Kenway

      “You will die of mal nutrition if you eat unsuplemented grains”

      How retarded you are is beyond me. You do realize people eat other things in their daily diets other than grains, most containing calcium. Theres a fine line between too much and too little calcium. Theres really no need to be putting calcium and other minerals in bread. It makes i easier to mix so the industry says hey!!! Its got calcium! Give it to your kids yumm! By the time theyre 60 theyll have so much plaque from excess calcium in their arteries that theyll all be getting bypasses.

      Also, grains have trace minerals.

      • George Davey

        Don’t call me stupid. The fact remains if you eat only unsupplemented grains you die.

        • Edward Kenway

          That’s because long before i was born there were people on this planet that ate grains 3 times a day, 365 days a year, so they might have missed some minerals like calcium and vitamins like C and D. Grains do have several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium). Theres really no need to put anything else in it, as if you eat something like raisin bran cereal today, the milk will supplement the calcium and the vitamin D which is more than enough, anything above is excessive. My father had a bypass, the head surgeon at cornell univ. operated on him. Plaque in the arteries is from excess minerals in poor diet (calcium, sodium) and stress.

          • George Davey

            Believe it or not most Americans are malnourished despite their high caloric intake. You should read my book and share it with your dad.

  • earthfairy

    Azodicardomanide is also in yoga mats …………..

  • sheila

    does anyone know a make of bread which doesnt include soya?

  • Edward Kenway

    Almost all of these ingredients are TOXIC and banned in Europe. Wtf is goin on with this country. How in the world is this legal?