Soggy spinach, crunchy chips, moist bread – texture is as important as flavor in consumer acceptance. For the fifth and final part of the Panera KNOW-No project, we review the food science of the texture modifiers on the No-No List.
In May 2015, Panera published a list of ingredients that would be removed from their food. Several other companies have made similar commitments to simplify their ingredients, but it’s rare these announcements address why the ingredient was in the food in the first place. This is a missed opportunity to celebrate the food science. Thus, this was my inspiration for this project. For each ingredient, you’ll find a brief explanation of its purpose, safety concerns if any, and whether a natural counterpart can perform as well or better. [For Part I, Overall Response, Part II, Sweeteners, Part III, Color/Flavor Enhancers, and Part IV, Preservatives, see previous posts].
Part V of V – Texture Modifiers (and remaining miscellaneous ingredients)
[The official Panera No No List is available here; replicated below.] Ingredients discussed in this post are red.
- PURPOSE: Not to be confused with the singular of “alumni”, alum the food ingredient is aluminum sulfate, usually in the form of potassium alum. This firming agent strengthens the pectin in the cell walls of pickled fruits and vegetables. Potassium alum or sodium aluminum sulfate (sodium alum) is used in commercial baking powder.
- BENEFIT OVER NATURAL: Alum is a necessary ingredient for crisp pickles, but some food recipe websites suggest swapping cream of tartar for alum. Calcium salts like calcium citrate and calcium hydroxide are also used as firming agents, but they may or may not be natural or consumer-friendly
- SAFETY NOTES: The science on aluminum accumulation is beyond the scope of this post. The best advice I can share (that I trust) is from the Toxic Substances Portal of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry:
- FOR MORE INFO: “Is Alum Safe” from Chemistry.About.com [here]
ALUMINUM CALCIUM SILICATE, SILICONES/SILOXANES
- PURPOSE: Anti-caking agent, in other words this keeps things from clumping and sticking together; Commonly used in dried powdered milk and powdered soups
- BENEFIT OVER NATURAL: Silicon dioxide occurs naturally in foods, especially foods derived from plants.
- SAFETY NOTES: Rated “Safe” by the Center for Science in the Public Interest [click here]. Approved for use in EU, Canada, and US
- FOR MORE INFO: Sodium Aluminum Silicate on Food Construed [here]
- PURPOSE: According to Food Construed, “Ammonium chloride is commonly used as a yeast nutrient in bread-making. In baking, it helps to give cookies a very crisp texture.”
- BENEFIT OVER NATURAL: The CSPI Chemical Cuisine Guide notes that ammonia is widely available in natural forms.
- SAFETY NOTES: The CSPI Chemical Cuisine Guide rates this “Safe” [click here]
- FOR MORE INFO: Reuters: Ammonia used in many foods, not just “pink slime”
- PURPOSE: Best described by Penn State Food Science Professor John Coupland:
Azodicarbonamide acts as a dough improver by chemically oxidizing thiol groups and rapidly forming the gluten network. It can also oxidize other flour components, including pigments, and is sometimes described as a bleach. The main benefit azodocarbomide offers to consumers is it reduces costs by making a better dough from a poorer quality (cheaper!) flour. There are several alternative dough improvers. – So what is azodicarbonamide actually doing in bread?
- BENEFIT OVER NATURAL: Freshly milled bread has a yellow hue, which lightens over time. Azodicarbonamide and other similar agent speed up this lightening process, but natural alternatives including using ascorbic acid or unbleached flour.
- SAFETY NOTES: This compound was infamously associated with yoga mats by the Food Babe. This comparison ignited fear, as well as criticism from food scientists and non-food scientists alike. [See NPR’s article “Almost 500 Foods Contain The ‘Yoga Mat’ Compound. Should We Care?” ]
***The Dosage Makes The Difference: It’s true that azodicarbonamide breaks down in the human body into metabolites that may cause a health risk. However, azodicarbonamide may only be used at a level of 45 parts per million in dough, so neither azodicarbonamide nor its metabolites are toxicological significant. See Sources below for more information on safety, world-wide.
- FOR MORE INFO: IF you are at all concerned, there are a LOT of sources of mis-information. THESE are the sources I TRUST:
- The Food Babe and Sudden Change in our Food system. – Chemicals in My Food
- So what is azodicarbonamide actually doing in bread? – Chemicals in My Food
- An Open Letter to the Food Babe – Science Meets Food
- Background on Azodicarbonamide and Its Use in Bread – International Food Information Council
BROMATED FLOUR / CALCIUM BROMATE / POTASSIUM BROMATE
- PURPOSE: Bromated flour is treated with calcium or potassium bromate, which helps strengthen the dough so it rises higher, according to Food Construed [here]
- SAFETY NOTES: The CSPI Chemical Cuisine Guide puts these compounds in the “Avoid” category, but Dr. Joe Schwarcz puts it best:
Bromates are another interesting case. When added to flour potassium bromate improves the baking qualities but is a suspected carcinogen. Bromates are not allowed in Europe or Canada but can be used in the U.S. because FDA says that they are destroyed during baking and only trace amounts remain. But if the rest of the world can get by quite nicely without adding bromates to flour, why can’t the U.S.? Because bromates make for the soft white texture and white colour that Americans have been goaded into preferring. Here too one can apply the precautionary principle. Remove bromates from flour. – The Precautionary Principle
- FOR MORE INFO: See the references above, also FDA Food Additives Code of Federal Regulations – Potassium Bromate
- PURPOSE: When fruit and citrus flavoring are added to carbonated water, the flavor separates from the water and floats to the top. BVO keeps citrus flavors well distributed or homogenous in sodas and sports drinks.
- BENEFIT OVER NATURAL: Alternatives to BVO include sucrose acetate isobutyrate and glycerol ester of rosin (which is its own entry, see below)
- SAFETY NOTES: Several important points here —
***Bromine toxicity:There is some concern that bromine builds up in the body. There are records of two people who were admitted to the hospital for bromine toxicity but one of these men was consuming 2-4 liters of BVO-containing soda per day, the other admitted drinking 8 liters (two gallons) per day. This is far more BVO than a normal consumer would ingest, and it’s also important to note that these people were also consuming at least 250 grams of sugar. [Source: Business Insider]
***FDA’s waffling, explained: FDA initially put BVO on the “Generally Recognized as Safe” list in *1958* because the research at that time did not indicate any health concerns. It’s impossible to prove that something does not exist, but there was evidence at that time that BVO was safe. Then the FDA withdrew GRAS status in the *1970s*, when more advanced technology and new research indicated that brominated oil increased the risk of heart disease in rats. By *1977* more research on the “No Observed Effect Level” prompted the FDA to allow BVO in food up to a level of 15 part per million (0.0015%). [Source: Snopes]
***BOTTOM LINE on SAFETY: As pointed out by the Mayo Clinic, and Business Insider suggest: “What should you do? Don’t drink large amounts of BVO-containing beverages. Better yet, take it one step further and cut back on all sugary drinks. Opt instead for healthier choices, such as water, low-fat milk and an occasional glass of 100-percent fruit juice.” – Mayo Clinic
- FOR MORE INFO: See any of the resources above
CAFFEINE – Everything and anything you could possibly ever want to know about caffeine can be found at Caffeine Informer
CAPROCAPRYLOBEHENIN (aka Caprenin) and other FAT SUBSTITUTES like SALATRIM (aka Benefat)
- PURPOSE: It’s harder to explain these without a quick primer on the structure of a fat molecule first.
*Think of a fat molecule (a “triglyceride”) as the head of a triton. The three prongs are each called fatty acids and they all connect to glycerol, which is the backbone or base of the triglyceride.
*Caprenin and Salatrim are both low-calorie triglyceride molecules. Caprenin is a triglyceride made from coconut, palm kernel, and rapeseed oils. Salatrim/Benefat is made from vegetable oils and really short fatty acids like acetic, propionic and butyric acids. Caprenin and Salatrim are cocoa butter substitutes, and can be used for baking chips, chocolate-flavored coatings, baked and dairy products, dressings, etc. [Source: Food Lipids: Chemistry, Nutrition and Biotechnology, 3rd Edition]
- BENEFIT OVER NATURAL:
*Caprenin and Salatrim/Benefat fat substitutes are only 5 Calories per gram; normally fat is 9 Calories per gram. They are lower calorie triglycerides because one or two of the three fatty acids used is not fully absorbed by the body. Caprenin is also more stable to heat.
- SAFETY NOTES:
*Both Caprenin and Salatrim have Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status with the US FDA. Salatrim is categorized “Cut Back” on the CSPI’s Chemical Cuisine Guide because large amounts can upset the stomach.
- FOR MORE INFO: The IFT article on Fat Replacers is comprehensive (but not too hard to read/understand if you’re not a food scientist)
CARBOXYMETHYL CELLULOSE, POLYDEXTROSE, MALTODEXTRIN
- PURPOSE: Carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), maltodextrin, and polydextrose are all carbohydrate-based thickeners and hydrocolloids. Hydrocolloids serve as fiber sources, fat replacers, thickeners/gelling agents, or emulsion stabilizers (i.e. they keep things that don’t like each other, like oil and water, from separating). CMC is a modified form of cellulose, and is one of the most common hydrocolloids used in the food industry, according to Food Navigator [here]. CMC is a thickening agent used to adjust/improve texture of many food products like jellies, paste fillings, spreadable process cheeses, salad dressings, cake fillings. Icings. It slows ice crystal formation in ice cream, and inhibits starch retrograding (staling) in baked goods.
*Maltodextrin is a carbohydrate chain (polymer) made of starch from potato, corn, rice, or wheat. Maltodextrins are used to increase viscosity, bind/control water, and contribute smooth mouth-feel in fat replacing systems for table spreads, margarine, imitation sour cream, salad dressings, baked goods, frosting, fillings, sauces, processed meat and frozen desserts. [Source: IFT article on Fat Replacers]
*Polydextrose is a bulking agent used in baked goods, candies, spreads, sauces, and syrups. It’s a sugar alcohol (a carbohydrate modified so it’s not fully absorbed, like the sweeteners in sugar-free gum)
- BENEFIT OVER NATURAL: Though CMC, polydextrose, and maltodextrin can be derived from natural sources, there may be other hydrocolloids, including other forms of cellulose, that may be suitable replacements. The ideal replacement depends on the food and other ingredients. The IFT article on Fat Replacers addresses some of the other options.
- SAFETY NOTES: The CSPI categorizes CMC as “Safe” [here] and notes it is neither absorbed nor digested. Another cellulose compounds called cellulose gel (microcrystalline cellulose, MCC) has a very long history of safe use in both the food and pharmaceutical industries, and is universally regarded as a safe synthetic ingredient by food regulatory authorities throughout the world. – See more at: http://www.foodsciencematters.com/faq/#cellulose
*Maltodextrin is also categorized “Safe” [here] but polydextrose is categorized “Cut Back” by the CSPI [here] because it is a sugar alcohol and a dosage larger than 15 grams per serving could have a laxative effect.
- FOR MORE INFO: See any of the links above
(FAT AND ITS COMPONENTS) DATEM, ESTERS OF FATTY ACIDS, GLYCERIDES, LARD, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED OILS/ ARTIFICIAL TRANS FAT, POLYSORBATES, SUCROGLYCERIDES, TRIACETIN/GLYCEROL TRIACETATE
- PURPOSE: Oil and water don’t mix, but when you use a piece of a fat molecule (a fatty acid instead of the whole triglyceride), it can serve as an emulsifier (like that person who gets along with EVERYONE; something that brings together and keeps together two things together that would normally separate)
*DATEM is used to build a strong gluten network to improve bread volume and keep dough from getting sticky or collapsing
*Esters, Glycerides, Polysorbates, and Sucroglycerides can make bread softer and prevent staling, improve the stability of margarine, make caramels less sticky, and prevent the oil in peanut butter from separating
*LARD is an animal fat from the adipose tissue of pig. Due to its plasticity and creaming with sugar and egg, lard is the animal fat of choice for some dough and batters.
*Triacetin/glycerol triacete reduces the surface tension of water and can be used as a solvent when extracting essential oils from foods (like mint and coffee).
- BENEFIT OVER NATURAL: All of these offer their own benefits dependent on both chef’s preference and the type of food (the “food matrix”)
*Lard might be preferred for its use in cooking applications like flaky pastries, but the use of Lard is forbidden in certain religions. Alternatives include shortenings (think Crisco), hydrogenated vegetable oils, and butter or margarine (but see Safety Notes)
- SAFETY NOTES: The CPSI categorizes all of these “SAFE” except for the hydrogenated oils, because of the negative health effects of trans fat. Sucroglycerides are a combination of fatty acids and a simple sugar (sucrose), so some of those fatty acids might be hydrogenated – see the FDA allowances for which fatty acids may be used [here]
*Olive oil is considered the healthiest fat, and lard may be better for you than shortenings, but not as good for you as olive oil. See The Salt’s take on lard health claims and concerns.
- FOR MORE INFO: See the CPSI Chemical Cuisine Guide, the IFT Fat Replacers article, or Compound Solutions‘ Guide to Different Types of Fat
- PURPOSE: This emulsifier is touted as the healthier alternative to BVO (see above for purpose). As a recap, it keeps citrus flavors from separating.
- BENEFIT OVER NATURAL: Glycerol esters of wood rosin come from the stumps of longleaf pine trees. While they are purified, they could still be considered a natural alternative to BVO.
- SAFETY NOTES:
*NOT SCARY:For some reason, glycerol ester of wood rosin is called a “frankenfood additive” on some blogospheres but I was not able to find the source of these criticisms, nor any reported safety concerns. One blogger cited the association with rat feces as why she avoids this ingredient, but in the article she was citing, the scientists fed the rats this additive then measured the amount in the feces as a way to determine how much was absorbed and digested versus excreted whole.
*NOT quite ESTER GUM: Glycerol ester of wood rosin (GEWR) is used to make ester gum, but they are not the same things. Ester gum is suitable for chewing gum and ice cream, while GEWR is suitable for citrus beverages [Source: Wise Geek]. Ester gum is “a commercial preparation of glycerol ester of wood rosin”, according to the Section on Public Health of the Advisory Centre of Toxicology, National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection [here]
*NOT GUM ROSIN: There is an article in Food Navigator about the European Food Safety Authority’s safety concerns over GUM rosin, but the EFSA report notes the committee could not justify setting GUM rosin to the same safety levels determined for WOOD rosin (i.e. WOOD rosin okay, GUM rosin not-so-much). [Read the EFSA report here or the layman’s press release here]
- FOR MORE INFO: The links above.
- PURPOSE: L-Cysteine is an amino acid that improves baking quality and color in flour by softening gluten proteins, allowing the dough to expand more, and by fighting oxygen radical damage to any vitamin C within the dough.
- BENEFIT OVER NATURAL: Alternatives depend on what quality of bread/baked goods you’re aiming for (color, crispy, flaky texture, height/rise etc…)
- SAFETY NOTES: Cysteine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning the body makes it. This ingredient is considered safe in multiple countries [Source: Noshly, here] The major consumer push-back for this ingredient seems to come from an “ick-factor” over how cysteine may be extracted from feathers or human hair, or it may be synthesized. If you’re a Vegan, I can see why you’d want to avoid this as an additive, but in my opinion the ick-factor alone is not a good reason. There is a huge difference from eating whole hair or feathers than eating an isolated amino acid from a protein.
- FOR MORE INFO: See CSPI’s review and any of the links above
PROPYLENE GLYCOL, PROPYLENE GLYCOL ALGINATE
- PURPOSE: Alginate is a safe derivative of brown algae and kelp. Propylene glycol alginate is an emulsifier, stabilizer, and thickener used in food products (NOT UNLIKE the hydrocolloids and cellulose we discussed, above). Propylene glycol (PG) and propylene glycol alginate maintains the desired texture in dairy products, especially ice cream [See Compound Interest article here], and beer. PG is also a solvent for food color and flavor (the same way water is a solvent for whey powder).
- BENEFIT OVER NATURAL: Using compounds from seaweed and kelp is actually a fairly sustainable process [Source: Food Science Matters here]
- SAFETY NOTES: The CPSI classifies these as “Safe” [here]. Propylene Glycol (PG), sometimes dramatically referred to as anti-freeze but, in fact, pharmaceutical grade PG is recognized safe by the World Health Organization at 25 mg per kilogram of body weight. The US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) considers PG GRAS (generally recognized as safe) at levels even higher: 50 grams per kilogram body weight. PG breaks down quickly in the body (< 48 hours), and absorbs excess water in foods. FUN FACT – while Fireball cinnamon whiskey made headlines for a PG mix-up, the Snopes article correctly point out you’d suffer from alcohol poisoning well before you got sick off the PG.[Snopes]
- FOR MORE INFO: International Food Information Council “Questions and Answers about Propylene Glycol“
SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATE / TRISODIUM PHOPHATE
- PURPOSE: Sodium lauryl sulfate is an emulsifier for egg whites (think FOAM) but is more commonly used for personal care products (more foam) like shampoos, soaps and toothpastes. Sodium phosphate helps retain moisture and improve texture in meat. Sodium phosphate is used for a lot of different purposes. It can act as a leavening agent in baked goods, control the even melt of processed cheese, control the pH of foods, modify textures, act as an emulsifier, and change the surface tension in liquids (such as evaporated milk). [Source: Food Construed here]
- BENEFIT OVER NATURAL: There are plenty of other molecules that will work as foaming agents and emulsifiers, but the optimal emulsifier depends on the food.
- SAFETY NOTES: The CSPI categorizes Sodium Phosphate as “SAFE” and notes, “While excessive consumption of phosphates could lead to dietary imbalances that might contribute to osteoporosis, only a small fraction of the phosphate in the American diet comes from additives. Most comes from meat and dairy products.”
Most, if not all of the heath concerns regarding Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) have to do with skin irritation from shampoos and other products containing SLS. NOTE – The Environmental Working Group, OSHA, and National Toxicology Program have all indicated the lack of scientific evidence linking SLS to cancer [Source: SLS Free review on SLS]
- FOR MORE INFO: Any of the links above, and Snopes on SLS, “Shampoo Sham“
- PURPOSE: Theobromine is an alkaloid found in chocolate. It has effects similar to caffeine and may be added to foods such as bread, cereal and sport drinks.
- FOR MORE INFO (**Including how much chocolate you’d have to eat to get sick off theobromine**): Compound Interest, “Toxicity and Aphrodisia: The Chemistry of Chocolate”
Companies should not be criticized for making clean-label commitments like this. However, consumers would benefit much more from moves like this if the companies are more transparent about WHY each ingredient is coming out, and what that ingredient was doing in the food in the first place. If you believe in this type of transparency, this type of consumer awareness, help me share this information.
Food Business News – Consumers fear some ingredients more than pathogens
Science Meets Food – Renouncing Pronounce-ability