Faster and better — we seem to strive for these qualities in all walks of life. Enzymes work behind the scenes to do this for bakers.

These natural proteins, in the form of a complex, precise arrangement of amino acids, promote highly specific biochemical actions. “As catalysts, enzymes facilitate chemical reactions that would normally require much more time or energy to achieve,” said Nicole Rees, R&D manager, AB Mauri, Wilsonville, OR.

By helping bakers advance production through enhanced dough handling and tighter process control, enzymes address cost-effective flour correction, replace emulsifiers and optimize egg usage. They aid finished product quality through increased baked volume, finer crumb structure, extended shelf life and acrylamide reduction. Simply put, enzymes help bakers get the best from their raw materials. This translates to improved economics and a more satisfied customer.

“Enzymes are naturally occurring components of many bakery ingredients,” said Jan van Eijk, research director, baking ingredients, Lallemand, Montreal. “Oftentimes, it is beneficial to add more enzymes to a batter or dough to maximize functionality in a specific application.”

Initially applied to bread and other yeast-raised items, enzymes now find use across the board, said Troy Boutte, group manager-bakery/fats and oils, DuPont Nutrition & Health, New Century, KS. “Virtually every baked food can benefit in multiple ways from enzymes, which is one of the reasons their use continues to grow,” he said.

Not many natural ingredients are so multifunctional or function-specific and economical to use. “Enzymes are extremely effective at what they do at a fraction of the dosage of other ingredients,” Ms. Rees said, “and this keeps ingredient shipping costs down and inventory space at a minimum.”

More and more applications

The past two decades experienced an increase in enzyme use in all baked foods. “There are two reasons we believe this is happening,” said Trey Muller-Thym, vice-president, Thymly Products Inc., Colora, MD. “The first is due to the increasing and fluctuating cost of functional ingredients such as vital wheat gluten and ascorbic acid. Enzymes tend to have a stable, lower price point, and bakers appreciate this.

“The second reason is because of consumers’ increased scrutiny of product labels. It is our belief that the end customer is looking for easy-to-read labels void of ingredients that sound like a chemistry lab,” he said. “And then, when bakers replace these other ingredients with enzymes, they discover the many extra perks that enzymes bring to the formulation.”

A great deal of this change is driven by the increasingly competitive bakery market, according to Joseph Herzog, technical sales director, Enzyme Development Corp., New York. “Standards of product quality and cleaner labeling are rising,” he said, adding, “The growth of whole grain varieties has also resulted in escalating use of enzymes to counter the technical challenges of those ingredients.”

Different enzymes — even those in the same class — do different things for bakery formulations. Ms. Rees explained, “Enzymes can have different side activities. We’ve catalogued the behavior of hundreds of enzymes in each class.”

Here’s an example of how enzymes addressed specific issues, with bakers reaping extra benefits along the way. “We created a blend of enzymes for a large national hamburger franchise,” Mr. Muller-Thym related. “We initially set out to help replace vital wheat gluten and sodium stearoyl lactylate due to cost and labeling; however, after the bake testing trials, the customer discovered that this blend of ­enzymes actually gave a more resilient bun and added volume, which helped during distribution and shipping across the country.”

Additional R&D work proved that the enzyme system could replace other commonly used texturizing agents such as calcium stearoly lactylate and diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides (DATEM). “Our customers are very happy about this because the word enzyme is much more label-friendly,” Mr. Muller-Thyme explained. “So, the consumers get a label they can understand, while the bakery saves at the bowl and reduces waste that was caused by damage during transportation.” 

Diverse but specific uses

What makes enzymes interesting is how their use varies by application and desired function, with each enzyme type functioning best at its own pH and temperature range. “Faster and better” aspects rely on these conditions along with time and enzyme concentration.

Mother Nature designed them this way. “Plants, animals and microorganisms all produce en-­

zymes,” Mr. van Eijk said. “They are responsible for various life processes, yet enzymes are not living organisms themselves.”

Enzymes catalyze biochemical reactions by bringing reactants together, rather than relying on the natural pace of a chance meeting of molecules. Once the desired reaction takes place, the altered complex releases the enzyme unchanged, and it moves along to the next set of reactants to do its magic. The enzyme continues to function in this ­manner until it is deactivated, or denatured. Typically, enzymes shut down after exposure to heat, as in baking, or when a forced chemical alteration such as a change in pH occurs. 

Today, the primary reason bakers use enzymes is to foster longer shelf life. “The most successful and almost indispensable use of enzymes in baked foods is for maintaining softness and freshness,” Mr. Boutte said. “This is accomplished mainly by using specific amylases that alter the starch, resulting in a form that resists staling.

“However, we also use phospholipases to achieve some anti-staling effects,” he added. Phospholipase acts on naturally occurring wheat lipids to generate an emulsifier that interacts with starch to slow the staling process.

Bacterial xylanases give some anti-staling effects, too. “They convert water-insoluble wheat fiber into soluble fiber to give a hydrocolloid-like effect in the baked food,” Mr. Boutte explained. “This keeps the product moister, which helps soften the crumb as well. All of these mechanisms work in a wide variety of baked foods.”

How they work

Enzymes can increase the volume of baked foods, according to Mr. Boutte. “Volume is an indicator of how light or dense a baked product is, and this can be an indicator of value to the consumer. There are many ways to increase volume in baked foods including chemical oxidants, hydrocolloids, vital wheat gluten and, of course, enzymes.” 

Many mechanisms that impact staling also tend to increase volume. “So, partial digestion of starch by amylases during baking decreases viscosity and allows the product to expand more easily, resulting in higher volume as well as an anti-staling effect,” Mr. Boutte said.

“Production of emulsifiers by phospholipases results in starch complexing,” he continued. “This delays starch gelatinization, allowing greater expansion during baking. And bacterial xylanases can increase dough viscosity during the proofing stage, which prevents ­coalescence of air bubbles and, in turn, produces more volume.”

Other enzymes such as hexose oxidase and glucose oxidase produce volume in a different way. “These enzymes actually mimic chemical oxidants by producing very tiny amounts of hydrogen peroxide in the dough,” Mr. Boutte said. The peroxide helps cross-link protein directly but can also convert ascorbic acid added to the dough to dehydroascorbic acid, a strong ­oxidizing agent. “The cross-linked protein forms a much stronger gluten network that is much better at holding in air and, therefore, produces more volume,” he explained.

On the production side, enzymes can be used to improve the ­machineability of doughs. “Cracker doughs, for instance, are very dry and can be difficult to sheet out,” Mr. Boutte said. “Addition of pro­teases can improve the sheeting of the dough to reduce snapback, resulting in a better-looking product.

“In general, you want the dough to be as strong as possible but also as soft as possible without becoming sticky,” he continued. “This minimizes damage to the gluten structure as the dough is machined and results in the best volume, shape and overall appearance of the finished product.”

New and emerging needs

Many other enzymes, some commercially available and others under development, address the varying current issues and emerging concerns encountered by bakers. These include clean-label products, preservation of taste and flavor of baked foods, improved mold-free shelf life of baked foods and reduced product quality variation due to flour variability, according to Mr. van Eijk.

For example, demand for guar gum currently exceeds supply, thus raising its price, and several ingredient suppliers have developed multi-ingredient systems that replace guar. Some employ a combination of enzymes and other components to replicate the gum’s functions of thickening, binding and improving texture in select baked products.

It’s not just guar that presents price challenges that can be ­addressed by enzyme applications. DSM Food Specialties USA, South Bend, IN, offers a number of such enzyme ingredients to optimize the functionality of commodity ingredients that often experience fluctuating and, at times, significant rising costs. For example, one such ingredient improves the emulsifying properties of egg lecithin by up to 20%. “It does this by transforming egg lecithin into lyso-lecithin, a much more effective emulsifier,” said Brian Fatula, DSM’s vice-president, Americas, baking enzymes. “The enzyme optimizes egg usage because the baker uses less egg but still gets the same functionality.”

This DSM enzyme system is one of a number designed for cakes. It helps bakers cut costs and boost quality by enhancing aeration during mixing, which, in turn, increases batter viscosity and cake volume, according to Mr. Fatula.

Another enzyme ingredient has optimal functionality in denser cakes and is also effective in muffins. “It synergistically combines lipase and amylase technology to ­produce cakes that maintain oven-fresh qualities over an extended shelf life,” Mr. Fatula said. “The specialty lipase releases natural emulsifiers from fats and lipids in cake recipes. These emulsifiers prevent starch from firming during storage, ensuring cakes stale less rapidly.”

Cakes represent a relatively new area of application for enzymes. Results are seen in finer crumb structure and shelf life extension. “Their specific enzymatic action enables manufacturers to double cakes’ shelf life while maintaining premium quality,” Mr. Fatula said. “In tests, extended-shelf-life cakes baked with one of the enzyme ­ingredients displayed crumb quality equivalent to freshly baked cakes. This extended softness helps manufacturers simplify warehousing and logistics while also increasing consumer satisfaction and ­reducing waste.” Suggested applications include sponge cakes, pound cakes, muffins and high-ratio cakes.

Even longer shelf lives may be in the works, too, according to Mr. Muller-Thym. “We continue to see the evolution of the standard extended-shelf-life enzymes that have been around for years,” he said. “By combining some of the more traditional enzymes, it is possible to get a synergistic effect that offers even more shelf life.”

Plenty of territory remains to be explored. Mr. Herzog summarized the state of the art involving enzymes and said, “In the short term, there will be continued refinement of existing technologies such as reduced side activities and finding new synergies. Long term, there are likely to be enzymes that target other components in flour not yet utilized.” He put his finger on an intriguing possibility: in situ saccharification. Using enzymes to do this would, he noted, keep sugar off the label and not increase total calories.

Problem solvers

Biotechnology advances allow identification and production of enzymes that address specific issues. For example, when concerns surfaced about the formation of acrylamide in baked foods, enzyme ­scientists got busy.

A potential carcinogen, acrylamide forms at high temperatures when the amino acid asparagine reacts with a reducing sugar such as glucose. The enzyme asparaginase retards acrylamide formation in baked foods by converting asparagine to aspartic acid, which does not take part in the formation of acrylamide. Asparaginase has been shown to reduce acrylamide levels in biscuit, cookie and cracker applications up to 90% without changing the dough or finished product characteristics.

Another development involves synergistic enzyme systems that can be used individually or in combination to optimize specific characteristics of the dough or final baked food. “We have such ­systems for soft breads and rolls,” said Richard Leboucher, R&D ­director, West Coast, Puratos, Cherry Hill, NJ. “The systems enable bakers to differentiate the texture of products in terms of resilience, short bite, softness, moistness and melting properties.

“The systems can be added on top of an existing recipe to intensify a specific functionality,” Mr. Leboucher explained. Thus the ­baker can influence one specific characteristic without reformulating the entire recipe. “For example, the ‘moist’ system improves freshness by increasing softness and moistness,” he continued. “The ­‘resilient’ system enhances the resilience of soft bakery products, helping to regain original shape after compression. There’s even a system designed to improve texture after reheating or defrosting in the microwave.” It is also possible to combine systems to customize texture.

Overall, suppliers report good opportunities for bakers to improve production and product through the use of enzymes. “Enzymes are one of the most economical, efficient, reliable and label-friendly category of performance ingredients available to today’s baker,” Mr. Muller-Thym said.

A great deal of progress has been made in enzymes, but more remains to come. “Most commercial baked foods now contain at least one enzyme, but many manufacturers still rely on chemical oxidants or reductants and emulsifiers to develop dough,” Mr. Boutte said. “Enzyme companies still have some work to do in terms of either developing slightly better enzymes or combining existing enzymes in the right way to get the same results as more traditional ingredients.”