Rising to the challenge 

Whether chemical or biological, leavening agents today are being used to address a range of challenges related to sodium reduction and shelf life, says Editor Caitlin Gittins 

Like most ingredients within the bakery industry, leaveners do not have a ‘one size fits all’ approach and choosing the right solution is complex. Oftentimes the choice of leavening agent that a manufacturer will pick does not come down to the ingredients that are part of the chemical or biological camps – although this is a debate that is influencing new solutions within the industry – but how it performs during processing. Challenges such as premature leavening, reduced shelf life and interactions with other ingredients, among others, means the right solution will need to counteract these issues and guarantee a high-quality end bakery product.

Meeting nutritional targets

Ongoing trends within the bakery industry have had a wide-ranging impact on the kind of ingredient solutions and equipment bakers turn to, to help fulfil the demands of consumers. Clean label and natural ingredients have perhaps had the biggest impact, in asking for labels with minimal text and ingredients that can do more; but gluten-free, plant-based and alternative baked goods have also necessitated changes in formula that impact on how leavening agents perform.

Sodium reduction to meet nutritional targets, for instance, has been one such area that presents technical challenges, as many chemical leavening agents are sodium-based – such as sodium bicarbonate – but ingredient suppliers have responded in kind, with their own leavening solutions that can help manufacturers to reduce salt in their products. As salt is used to activate the leavening agent present in chemical solutions like baking powder or soda, reducing it will impact on the product.

In a session at Bakery Live, Joanne Burns, Reformulation for Health Manager at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland spoke in length about the technical challenges reformulation presented – in tandem with framing it as an opportunity for manufacturers to tap into the kinds of healthier products consumers are looking for. By delving into main drivers for reformulation, providing information to help manufacturers navigate this area and discussing technical challenges involved in HFSS reduction, Joanne highlighted the challenge at hand for manufacturers and the importance of continued focus on reformulation.

“The different global health drivers and targets can vary from country to country,” she explained. “If we look at the global reformulation targets for salt, for example, we can see that 57 countries around the world have salt reduction projects, 19 of which are actually mandatory.

“Several of the salt reduction programmes are only relevant to bread products, whilst others include a broader range of products to reformulate to meet those targets. The global salt reformulation projects have led to great progress in reducing salt intakes.”

Although measuring the results of each project owing to different time scales and targets is difficult, Joanne said that progress had been observed: “A recent study evaluating the progress of the mandatory targets in South Africa suggested a 1.16 gramme per day reduction between 2015 and 2018, and Argentina actually saw a two gramme per day reduction in salt intake between 2011 and 2015, which is just fantastic.”

“Given that 75% of the salt we consume comes from salt contained with products that we buy rather than added salt at home, shows the importance of these salt reduction programmes,” Joanne added.

Salt reduction is not, “simply a process of just removing that ingredient from a recipe,” she emphasised. “Many other factors have to be considered other than just flavour. Salt or sodium chloride contributes many technical functions within a bakery recipe, including stabilising the yeast fermentation rate, strengthening the dough.

“It also helps to strengthen the gluten structure in your dough and helps trap the carbon dioxide and enhance the flavour of the final product as well. Salt is also hydroscopic, which means it attracts water, so that means it’ll hold onto the moisture within your baked good.”

Some possible solutions, besides reformulating other ingredients like leaveners in response, includes a gradual decrease rather than a sudden removal: “Bakers can consider a gradual decrease of the salt within their recipes or swap to lower sodium alternatives such as potassium chloride blends or consider using other ingredients that enhance the saltiness of foods such as yeasts and seaweeds.

“Some projects that we’ve worked with have also considered the distribution of salt within a product. For example, a focaccia bread product by reducing the salt within the dough and then using larger crystal sizes as a topping, reducing the overall salt content within the bread product.”

Sodium reduction

Delving into sodium reduction further shows that helping to reduce the amount of salt in a bakery product by reevaluating the leavening agent requires close collaboration between the ingredient supplier and manufacturer. In one example, ingredients supplier Kudos Blends worked with a tortilla manufacturer whose requirements were to reduce sodium in their products.

Although not explicitly stated in the case study, this can, in part, be perceived as a reaction to greater pressures on manufacturers to reduce salt, owing to consumer health concerns, regulatory targets set by governments designed to reduce sodium content and, to some extent, market opportunities for manufacturers within consumers who are seeking out reduced salt in products.

Tortillas are a tough challenge to overcome as traditional products are high in sodium and the end product needs to be high in water activity to maintain softness over a longer shelf life. Sodium typically plays a big role in this by discouraging microbial growth to ensure freshness for longer, as well as helping to enhance the flavour and texture of the tortilla. Removing the sodium content, as a result, can result in adverse effects and produce an undesirable product.

The chosen solution was a tailored baking powder designed to replicate the same taste, texture and feel of the tortilla over time while reducing sodium content. This was also critical for the manufacturer’s processing steps, in creating a dough that could be handled by industrial tortilla presses.

In another case study, a major food manufacturer producing crackers wanted to reduce sodium to improve the nutrition and meet health targets, whilst ensuring brand quality and particular end product attributes. Indicators of quality in crackers include their crispy and crunchy texture which should last some time; a balanced flavour profile (whether it is a plain cracker or seasoned); and a uniform colour.

The target was to achieve 700mg of sodium per 100g of end product and as detailed in the case study, attempts to reach this target were not initially met. Reducing sodium bicarbonate with bakery-grade potassium bicarbonate poorly impacted on the flavour and created ‘biocarbonate spotting’; and it failed to provide those all-important sensory attributes that the manufacturer was looking for.

Sodium bicarbonate usually accounts for around 25% of the sodium present. One of the ways to reduce the sodium content is either by reducing the physical amount or by replacing it with bakery-grade potassium bicarbonate. Dry products like crackers can be prone to bicarbonate spotting which happens when the potassium bicarbonate doesn’t fully dissolve within the dough. Besides the spotty appearance, it can also impart a bitter, undesirable flavoury and affects the volume and shape, resulting in an underbaked and soggy texture.

The solution was using Kudos Blends’ KODA technology to replicate the functionality of sodium bicarbonate to reduce sodium and improve the nutritional profile. Kudos Blends also conducted a series of taste tests where three samples were given to testers: two were identical controls, while the third contained their solution as opposed to sodium biocarbonate. Results showed that fewer than 33% of participants identified the differences between sodium bicarbonate and Kudos Blends’ solution, while 83% identified differences between sodium bicarbonate and potassium bicarbonate.

Chemical versus biological

As a critical ingredient, leavening agents help with aeration and rise, as well as texture, flavour development, shelf life and consistency. Products that are properly leavened have telltale characteristics: bread, for instance, possesses a light and airy crumb structure with a springy texture; cakes will be light and fluffy with a tender crumb; and cookies will have a light texture and lightly crisp exterior. Improperly leavened bread comes out dense and heavy; cakes are the same, with the potential for a sunken centre; and cookies can be dense, hard and overly chewy.

Chemical leavening agents do have their place, as bakers offer turn to them as a means of ensuring a reliable, repeatable performance and a precise leavening process. Chemical leaveners typically consist of baking soda or sodium bicarbonate; baking powder and sodium acid pyrophosphate, to name a few.

Biological leaveners, meanwhile, typically refer to baker’s yeast, although other bacteria and waste byproducts can also be harnessed to raise baked goods. The major difference between these agents, besides their composition, is the time taken for them to kick in; chemical leaveners activate as soon as the water is combined with the acid and other chemicals while leavening using baker’s yeast requires a proofing stage to give it time to convert sugar into carbon dioxide, to raise the dough.

Issues during processing are not exclusive to biological leaveners, however – chemical leaveners can suffer from premature release and pre-reaction with other ingredients. A premature reaction means the baked good won’t rise when required, and the volume will be reduced. The sensitivity of other ingredients to parameters such as temperature and moisture means maintaining the product quality and consistency is challenging.

Changes in temperature, moisture and ingredient interaction – typically acidic ingredients – can threaten how well a leavening agent performs during processing. Bakers need to mitigate this risk by keeping dry and wet ingredients separate for as long as possible, because when water interacts with a leavening agent like bicarbonate it can cause the loss of carbon dioxide, a crucial chemical compound used for rising bakery products.

One challenge bakers sometimes have to combat is the premature trigger of carbon dioxide when it is not needed, which can result in a flat, undesirable baked good.

Baker’s yeast is also an expensive ingredient, which means any errors before or during production can really cost the baker. Baker’s yeast is sensitive to oxygen exposure, which can compromise its shelf life. To combat the costs of the ingredient, some bakers will bulk order pre-packaged yeast – but once the seal is broken and the yeast is exposed to oxygen, its shelf life is significantly affected.

Microencapsulating certain ingredients is a kind of technology that’s been put in place since the 1930s and can be employed to microencapsulate baker’s yeast to reduce degradation as a result of exposure to oxygen. Coating baker’s yeast means the shelf life is increased and in some instances the release can be slowed, so less yeast is needed. Another benefit that can be felt by microencapsulating yeast is that there is less need for storage facilities, which can save bakers money.

Clean label baking dictates that chemical leavening agents cannot be used in the process, which can be tough and require some trial and error in finding what recipe works best. In one collaboration between ingredients supplier Maxx Performance and a pizza manufacturer, great emphasis was placed on finding the solution that works best. The brief, helping to raise pizza dough while achieving a tasty, crispy crust, greater texture and volume, while integrating it in with a fast-paced, automated process that didn’t have much time for proofing, shows where manufacturers feel the pressure and how ingredient suppliers can help.

The solution was to offer two self-rising crust formulations and samples of standalone active ingredients – sodium bicarbonate, a sodium bicarbonate sodium aluminium phosphate blend, and an encapsulated sodium bicarbonate and monocalcium phosphate blend – enabling the manufacturer to test for themselves what worked best. Because of the clean label requirements dictating the chosen leavener from the get go, the encapsulated blend was picked.

Closing thoughts

Microencapsulation technology, slow-release leaving agents and more present savvy solutions for the bakery manufacturer of today who may have to meet nutritional targets set out by legislation, or even want to feed health-conscious consumers by reducing salt or other critical ingredients that impact on how leavening agents perform. Chemical or biological’; the solution has to suit the manufacturer’s needs.

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International Bakery

Media contact

Caitlin Gittins
Editor, International Bakery
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 920
Email: editor@in-bakery.com

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