What’s in a loaf of bread? Flour, water, yeast, salt and maybe some seeds or flakes? Wrong. Take a look at the label of an ordinary sliced loaf and you’ll find some other ‘ingredients’. You may wonder what ‘flour treatment agent’ is and your tongue may get tied over ‘diacetylated tartaric esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids’. But allow me to let you into a secret: there’s something else in your bread – and it’s not declared on the label.
The big ‘plant’ bakeries together with the instore supermarket bakeries account for about 95% of the bread eaten in the UK. And the vast majority of this is made using undeclared industrial enzymes. Amylase, xylanase, lipoxygenase, protease, hemicellulase and others, singly or in combination, often produced using GM technology, derived from cereal, fungal, bacterial or animal sources and added to bread in forms to which the human digestive system has never before been exposed – these are British bread’s tawdry little secret. Why aren’t they declared on bread labels? Because the law treats enzymes as ‘processing aids’ which, unlike ‘additives’, don’t need to be disclosed.
They may be perfectly safe, of course. Trusting folk will, no doubt, be content with assurances to this effect from the regulators – the very same regulators who allowed other additives like potassium bromate to adulterate our bread for decades until they were suspected of causing cancer. The more curious may wonder why, if added enzymes are so safe, the big bakers want to keep the good news that they are in our daily bread from us. Could there be a connection, some may wonder, between the cocktails of enzymes designed to make bread stay squishy for weeks and the growing number of people complaining of ‘bloating’ and other digestive sensitivities?
Research is needed into the effects of eating enzyme-laced bread. But people are unlikely to support calls for such research if they don’t know enzymes are in their bread in the first place. And anyway, isn’t it everyone’s right to know what they are eating?
Making food choices without all the necessary information leaves us confused and manipulated. It’s time to get real about bread. Enough of the additives (hidden or otherwise), the endless ‘healthy eating’ masquerade of charging more for sticking supplements into the same basic dough and the nostalgic marketing suggesting that bread is ‘as good for you now as it’s ever been’ when in fact modern hybrid wheats, bred for intensive farming, are less rich in micronutrients, when white flour is so depleted by milling that it has – by law – to be fortified with chalk, iron and two synthetic B vitamins, and when bread is mixed and baked so fast that there is no time for fermentation to make it more nutritious and digestible.
We’re starting a Real Bread Campaign, to encourage more people to make, buy, share and enjoy proper bread. If it’s going to happen, we need to make everyone aware of the adulteration that’s going on. The labels on most loaves are deceptive and incomplete, so let’s stick one on ‘em!
Real bread activists might arm themselves will little blocks of sticky labels, printed with the missing information about enzymes. On visits to the supermarket, they might spend a few moments peacefully making good the information deficit on those loaves with the hidden additives. And then we all might open our eyes and make a real choice.
Author of Bread Matters (Fourth Estate)
and founder of the Real Bread Campaign.