Technical enzymes in bread: is labeling necessary?

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Written By Kampretz Bianca

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Denis Hüwel gives a tour of his bakery in Soyen, a village near Wasserburg am Inn. Several yeasts rest in large kettles – initially for 20 hours, then water and flour are added again and the dough rests for another six hours. “Good bread takes time,” says the master baker.

Hüwel is 34 years old and opened his bakery “Brotliebe” two years ago. Previously, he had studied IT and pharmaceuticals, among other things, until he realized that he was much more interested in the profession. He abandoned his studies, trained as a baker and finally obtained a master’s degree. His bakery is doing well, even though Soyen, with its 2,600 inhabitants, is not a particularly large village. People also come from out of town to shop with him. Hüwel does not use any additives. Its ingredients: flour, water, salt and just a little yeast. “Nothing else is needed,” he is convinced.

Baking agents as the “gold standard”

There aren’t many bakers left who cook like Hüwel. Many people don’t have time or don’t take advantage of it. Companies compete with discount stores that offer baked goods at low prices.

In the past, artisan bakers could only produce a few products: white bread, gray bread, wholemeal bread and rolls. That changed thanks to the baking powder industry. Nowadays, bakers display different types of bread because the tools are becoming more and more sophisticated. This ranges from ready-made flour mixtures to the so-called “one hundred percent” ones, where you just need to open the bag, add water and oil and bake.

Hüwel criticizes the “gold standard” in the baking industry. Thanks to baking agents, companies were able to compensate for fluctuations in quality and simplify production.

200 approved additives

More than 200 additives are approved. Many things don’t need to be specified because they are supposed to be inactive during the cooking process. What many consumers don’t know is that the flour that ends up in bakeries or supermarkets is usually pre-treated. Sometimes technical enzymes are added.

They are proteins, that is, proteins produced in the laboratory. They guarantee a fluffy dough that doesn’t stick to the machines, and can even brown, a good volume or even a crispy crust. And they have a decisive advantage for the bakery industry: legally, they are called processing aids. These do not need to be marked.

Many consumers do not even know that there are such additives in bread. Even many bakers have no idea, says master baker Anke Kähler. She founded the association “The Free Bakers”, which avoids most additives.

Exaggerated concern?

However, it doesn’t seem entirely clear whether enzymes can be harmful or whether it is ultimately a matter of craftsmanship. Research by Lutz Fischer, who heads the Department of Biotechnology and Enzyme Science at the University of Hohenheim, has proven that technical enzymes can also be active after cooking. However, the professor assumes that this poses no danger.

Enzymes also occur in nature, argues Fischer. Each person has their own enzymes, that is, proteins that control or accelerate biochemical reactions. Without them we would not be able to digest and live.

A study carried out by Ruhr University in 2003, however, showed that one in four bakers has an allergic reaction to enzyme dust, ranging from eye irritation to asthma.

The likelihood of getting an allergy to a baked product has not been sufficiently researched, says nutritionist and food technologist Stephan Lück. Lück heads the area of ​​nutrition education and community nutrition at the Nutrition Competence Center in Kulmbach. It requires that the technical enzymes in bread be labeled. This means that the consumer can decide for themselves. He agrees with Professor Lutz Fischer from the University of Hohenheim on this.

Could mandatory labeling help?

European MEP from the Austrian Greens and prominent chef Sarah Wiener also want more clarity. And throughout the European Union. In 2021, together with MPs from Germany, Italy, France, Denmark and Portugal, she submitted a written question to the EU Commission. Little has happened since then. The EU Commission wanted to publish a list of all approved food enzymes by the end of 2023. But this list does not yet exist.

Wiener considers it “highly problematic” that technical enzymes have not yet been labeled. She argues that the customer must know what they are buying.

“Scissors fall apart”

Master baker Hüwel de Soyen doesn’t worry about labeling requirements. He uses it anyway no additives and baking agents. However, Hüwel expects the gap between purely artisanal and industrially produced products to widen further. He hopes more bakers follow his example.

You can find out more about this topic on BR24 patrol radio. The podcast is available, among other places, in the ARD audio library. You can listen to radio patrol on the BR24 radio program today (May 22) at 12:17 pm.

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