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The ever-trendy clean label evolves

There is more to a clean label than the sum of its components. Certain expectations from the technology used in the production of baked goods are associated with this claim.

By Dr. Torsten Zense, Food Technology Manager, R&D and Marketing, DIOSNA Dierks & Soehne GmbH

Today, ‘clean label’ is a term with many interpretations. In the past, it simply meant avoiding certain ingredients, some of which were declared with E-numbers or sounded like ‘chemicals’. Since then, the term ‘clean label’ has often been used when the list of ingredients is reduced so that the composition is simple and clearly stated, from the consumer’s perspective. To this end, baking ingredient manufacturers offer baking agents or baking mixes that support these claims. However, many requirements for clean labels can also be met by suitable dough technologies. The following article will deal with this in greater detail.

Clean labels can be addressed from the perspective of the dough technologies involved in the following areas of application:

  • The stability of the dough for mechanical processing
  • Shelf life/freshness
  • Shelf life/mold retardation
  • Pastry structure throughout long dough runs
  • Pastry structure after freezing processes

Dough structure for machine processing

Following kneading, the dough is divided, portioned, and further processed either immediately or after resting. In industrial bakery processing, this is typically done with machines. To this end, the dough must have a sufficiently elastic, yet stable, structure. In addition, it must not be moist or sticky. To improve the machinability of the dough, certain ingredients can be used to ensure the desired dough structure is achieved. The ingredients do this by strengthening the gluten network (cysteine, ascorbic acid, vital gluten, etc.) and promoting water absorption through swelling agents and the work of enzymes.

What are the technological possibilities here? Pre-swelling is achieved in a pre-dough with the addition of yeast. During the ripening process, enzymatic processes take place which, among other things, support the subsequent binding of water or the improvement of elasticity (softness of the bread). If a yeast pre-dough is added proportionally to a main dough, the dough is well suited for machine processing and, at the same time, elastic and stable. Therefore, there is a very good reason why the so-called ‘sponge and dough process’ is one of the most common production methods for sandwich bread and toast bread (tin bread).

While the ‘sponge and dough process’ was still characterized by solid pre-doughs, typically DY 165 (flour:water 100:65), modern bakeries are increasingly working with ‘liquid sponges’, i.e. pumpable yeast pre-doughs (flour:water 100:100). An advantage of ‘liquid sponges’ is the lower space requirement, but the main benefit is that the mature pre-dough can be cooled and stored for a limited time, which makes it possible to separate production and processing of the pre-dough.

The improvement of the gluten quality in the sponge comes from the improved extensibility and swelling. What is not achieved here is an improvement in cross-linking, such as that brought about by cysteine and ascorbic acid. To achieve this, sourdoughs are increasingly used in the wheat sector.

Very different starter cultures for wheat are available on the market, ranging from strong starters that achieve a significant stabilization of the gluten even with a small addition, up to mild-tasting starters that nevertheless lower the pH value as well, which has a positive effect on the gluten network formation. This is due to the fact that gluten swells and cross-links are dependent on the pH value. By completing a few baking tests in advance, the appropriate amount to add (depending on the starter) is determined.

Shelf life/freshness

Let us look first at the freshness of baked goods. Among dough technologies, the sponge process plays an important role. By adding a sponge, the freshness perceived by the consumer – the softness of the bread – can be significantly prolonged. This not only makes use of the pre-swelling, but also of the natural enzymatic processes during the maturing of the pre-dough.

Another possibility is to use the starch contained in the flour or other vegetable ingredients. This makes use of the fact that starchy ingredients can be gelatinized by adding hot water, which later increases the total water content in the dough. The pre-gelatinization approach is followed, for example, with pre-gelatinized flour, a common ingredient in baking agents. Another baking ingredient that follows this route is potato flakes or potato flour. Another option is the ‘flour cooking/grain cooking’ technology, in which part of the flour is heated with water to such an extent that the starch gelatinizes, thus introducing additional water into the dough. Even a few percent of the ‘scalding dough’ in the final dough prolongs the freshness. The result – bread that preserves moisture longer – is clearly noticeable to the With suitable plant technology, such scalding doughs can optionally be produced in advance, then refrigerated or frozen, and used later.

Shelf life/mold retardation

Shelf life – in the sense of delayed mold formation – is naturally extended, following the ‘clean label’ trend, by using sourdough. The possible extension depends not only on the sourdough culture used but also on the entire baking and packaging process. Extending the shelf life by a minimum of one or two days can almost always be achieved, and it can be even more in many cases. A practical example: in the case of tin bread, which is typically made with an anti-mold agent, it is possible to replace the preservative with sourdough – in temperate climate regions – in the winter months, and at least proportionally in the summer.

In some cases, sourdoughs are made from cultures that can themselves produce substances to naturally inhibit mold. However, as these sourdoughs require special treatment, their use on an industrial scale is not yet common.

The growing trend towards clean-label baked goods can be met not only by a growing range of clean-label baking ingredients but also by a pool of (pre-)dough technologies. Thus, bakers have many opportunities to respond to the trend with their creativity and outstanding products.

Read the full article, including an analysis of pastries, in Baking+Biscuit International, issue 6 – 2022.