The smell of freshly baked bread can evoke feelings of comfort and security. Whether at home, at the grocery store or in a restaurant, the smell of warm, baked bread can trigger growling stomachs and watering mouths. So when it was announced that this beloved food contained an ingredient called azodicarbonamide and that Subway planned to remove it from their sandwich bread, we wanted to know more about this ingredient and how it's used in bread baking.
Here's what the experts had to say about azodicarbonamide, a flour bleaching and improving agent.
We reached out to Julie M. Jones, PhD, CNS, LN, CFS, FICC, Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emerita, Foods and Nutrition, St. Catherine University, to find out more about this ingredient.
What role does azodicarbonamide serve?
Dr. Jones: It makes a stronger dough because it causes the bonding of the proteins in the flour and speeds the fermentation process.
Will we notice a different taste/texture if azodicarbonamide is not used in certain breads?
Dr. Jones: Bread with this dough improver has a higher volume, finer grain, thinner cell walls, softer texture and the dough has better handling characteristics.
Is there an economic impact? Does using azodicarbonamide make bread cheaper?
Dr. Jones: Fermentation is faster and bread rises better. Every minute a dough is on the floor has a cost, so longer fermentations may mean greater cost.
Is azodicarbonamide in other foods?
Dr. Jones: FDA only allows it in flour and dough.
How much of this chemical is used? How much of it might cause harm?
Dr. Jones: According to the food additive regulations, when used as a dough conditioner in bread baking, total amount is not to exceed 0.0045 percent (45 parts per million) by weight of the flour used. During fermentation of the dough, it is changed to biurea (a chemical compound, which is rapidly excreted from the body upon exposure).
We also asked Carl Winter, PhD, Director, FoodSafe Program, Extension Food Toxicologist, University of California - Davis, about the safety of azodicarbonamide.
Is azodicarbonamide safe?
Dr. Winter: The FDA considers azodicarbonamide to be Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) based on its normal use in food. The toxicological concerns seem to stem from the potential exposures of workers to much higher levels of the chemical through inhalation, which is a very different scenario than is faced by consumers. There is also some concern about the formation of an azodicarbonamide breakdown product, semicarbazide, although those concerns primarily stem from the formation of this product from glass jars with plastic seals, and not from breads.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has issued an official statement regarding azodicarbonamide (added 2/9/14):
Azodicarbonamide is approved in the United States as a food additive for certain uses in cereal flour and bread-making. As part of FDA's overall commitment to ensure the safety of the food supply, the agency uses an extensive, science-based process to evaluate the safety of food additives. Under FDA regulations, safety for food additives means that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm when an additive is used within the intended conditions of use. The agency monitors the safety of food additives, including azodicarbonamide, and is prepared to take appropriate action if safety concerns arise.
- For more details on azodicarbonamide, please see the regulation at: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfCFR/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=172.806
- For more information on food additives, please see: http://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm094211.htm