The results of a large-scale study by the Delhi-based Centre for Science & Environment on white bread in the nation’s capital has brought potassium bromate, a staple chemical compound used in the baking process, into the nation’s consciousness. Following this study, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has removed the compound from its list of permissible additives.
So what is potassium bromate?
Until very recently, Potassium bromate is a flour improver that strengthens dough and allows the dough to rise higher during baking. Usually 15-30 parts per million (ppm) of potassium bromate is used during the flour treatment stage. Ideally, the act of baking changes its chemical composition and thus leaves no trace in the finished product.
And the problem is?
Well, if too much of the additive is used, or the bread is not baked long enough or at optimal temperature, then a residual amount will endure. This is a massive concern given that an expert committee administered by the World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organization confirmed that potassium bromate is a ‘genotoxic carcinogen’ after a long-term study.
What have other countries done about it?
The European Union, China, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Peru and Columbia have banned the use of potassium bromate for flour treatment. Ever since its removal from the FSSAI’s list of permissible additives, only the US allows it up to 75 ppm even though bakers there are officially asked not to use the compound. In fact, many manufacturers and bakers in the US have voluntarily ceased using the compound in their bread.
Are there any alternatives?
Fortunately, ascorbic acid, commonly known as Vitamin-C, is a harmless alternative to potassium bromate. Glucose oxidase is yet another alternative which was approved by the FSSAI last year.
In the countries where potassium bromate has already been banned, industrial bakers categorize ascorbic acid as a flour ‘improver’ or dough conditioner. Some of its major benefits to baking are greater loaf volume, finer crumbs, improved softness of the crumb, reduced crust thickness and, most importantly, faster rising of the dough during the baking process. The other alternative, glucose oxidase, is an enzyme that provides an oxidising effect and has the same effect as ascorbic acid on the finished bread product.
Is there any reason not to use these alternatives?
Literally none. Both of these are naturally-occurring and have no negative effect upon consumption. Moreover, the cost difference to the manufacturer of using these as an alternative to potassium bromate is also negligible. Taking into account the market price of the three compounds and the typical quantities used during baking, the increased cost of using these alternatives comes out to just 2 paise on average per loaf of bread.
Just 2 paise to switch to a healthier alternative and retain the trust of the consumer.