When enzymes burst back onto the bakery formulating scene, the carbohydrate modifiers grabbed the most attention, making headlines by extending shelf life. Recently, however, other types have entered the picture to improve finished product quality, and they do their work by replacing chemically-derived additives.

There’s something natural about enzymes taking over many of the jobs that chemical additives used to do. It’s almost as if Mother Nature intended this all along. “The nice thing about enzymes is that they are products of nature,” said Brian Fatula, vice-president, baking enzymes, DSM Food Specialties USA, Inc., South Bend, IN, “and typically, they are viewed as being able to participate with the natural ingredient trend.”

This consumer trend also drives clean-label formulating, a product development approach that replaces chemical additives with compounds derived from natural sources. “Enzymes are at the forefront of cleaner label technology,” said Bill McKeown, vice-president, innovation, AB Mauri, Chesterfield, MO. “They have become more specialized and specific in delivering functionalities that can reduce and oftentimes eliminate synthetic chemical additives and emulsifiers.”

In the US, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations require package labels to list the ingredients contained in processed foods with an exception for processing aides that do not survive intact in the finished product. Enzymes fit that description exactly.

“Enzymes often perform their function throughout the processing period and are then deactivated by the heating stage,” explained Kathy Sargent, project manager, R&D, Corbion Caravan, Lenexa, KS. “Any remaining material is present as a small amount of protein. They are a great approach to maintain high product quality without negatively impacting a product label.”

Except for grain malt sources, most enzymes used by bakers today come from bacterial or fungal organisms. Those produced by Aspergillus niger, A. oryzae, Bacillus subtilis and certain others are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by FDA. Suppliers can also self-affirm GRAS status for enzymes derived from other organisms.

“In addition to being more natural, enzymes are more sustainable,” said Fokke van den Berg, global marketing manager, bakery, Novozymes, Bagsvaerd, Denmark. “These are not chemicals but proteins made under very mild conditions.”

Enzymes make a good choice for the baker looking for natural ingredients. “We all know, there is no definition of ‘natural,’ ” said Chrissi Knott, bake shop manager, Cain Food Industries, Dallas, “but consumers look at enzymes as a product they can get comfortable with as opposed to the alphabet soup of chemical additives.”

Native and emerging

The natural aspect fits bakery formulas well. Cereal grains contain many naturally occurring enzymes. “The bakers’ most useful enzymes are types endogenous in wheat such as amylase,” Mr. Fatula said.

Also present in wheat are xylanases, proteases, lipases, phosphatases, cellulases and oxidases. And when yeast is added to the formula, it brings glutathione to the mix. It’s these types, underused in the past, that now open doors, especially the ones leading to clean labels.

Proteases, for example, can replace sulfite and cysteine, according to Joseph Herzog, technical sales director, Enzyme Development Corp., New York, NY. They also yield faster mix times and produce softer, more pliable doughs, better pan flow and darker crusts. He noted that botanical proteases (bromelain and papain) produce extensive effects on gluten, while fungal proteases are more widely used. “Their limited action on gluten is best for most types of baked goods like bread and rolls,” he said.

Where flour tends to be high in protein, proteases can answer the problem of “bucky” doughs by increasing the dough extensibility, recommended Frank Devos, vice-president of R&D, Puratos USA, Cherry Hill, NJ.

Lipases, specifically phospholipases, were cited by Jan Van Eijk, bakery research director, Lallemand Baking Solutions, Montreal, QC, for their ability to replace emulsifiers such as DATEM and SSL. “If the emulsifier requirement is high, at least part of the emulsifier can be replaced cost-effectively by phospholipase,” he noted, “but the total replacement in a clean-label application sometimes means higher costs because of the extra substrate [lecithin] that may need to be added.”

Fiber, starch functionality

Mr. Devos recommended another category, bacterial xylanases. “Contrary to older versions like fungal hemicellulases, modern xylanases have a single activity and better activity in converting water-insoluble xylans into water-extractable,” he said. The enzyme helps strengthen gluten, making bread dough more tolerant to processing and yielding improved volume and crumb structure.

Mr. Fatula pointed to the role of hemicellulases in optimizing dough rheology. The class of hemicellulase enzymes, he explained, breaks down the large cellulose and hemicellulose molecules in dietary fiber to improve finished product quality. “Also, many formulations that do use hemicellulase generally employ only one,” he observed. “But by using two or three in combination, you can really optimize their functionality.” The company found an interesting application for a new hemicellulase: It enhances water regulation, allowing more to reach the gluten and enhance its strength, a property that can suffer in reduced-sodium products.

Using oxidases can improve handling of sticky, overly slack and high-hydration doughs. Mr. Devos said oxidases are particularly interesting for rye bread, too.

Also emerging are asparaginases. They convert asparagine — the amino acid precursor responsible for forming the carcinogen acrylamide in bread crust or toast — to aspartic acid, which plays no role in the Maillard browning reaction. “A great opportunity exists for bakeries to take a leadership role and incorporate this technology in toast bread, croutons, hamburger buns and other crackers and snack foods to ultimately reduce acrylamide in the final product,” Mr. McKeown said.

Sometimes, the definition of underutilized comes down to economics, meaning that usage level is kept low to save on costs. Mr. Van Eijk explained, “This is what we sometimes observe for shelf-life-extending enzymes, the maltogenic amylase types. Sometimes, the level is suboptimal for the type of product produced, as with xylanases in whole wheat bread applications. And some enzymes are underutilized because a cheaper chemical alternative is available, but the clean-label trend is reversing this.” He offered the example of glucose oxidase replacement of azodicarbonamide in dough conditioners.

Don’t assume that amylase has been exhaustively explored yet. “With bread, there is still lot we can do with the large diversity within amylases,” Mr. van den Berg said. “We have only seen the beginning.” A combination of amylase and lipase, for example, is being offered as a cake system. “You need both activities to meet the need for keeping cakes soft,” he observed.

Ms. Sargent also identified sweet goods as an area new to enzyme use. “Enzyme solutions that worked well in bread were not suited for sweet good formulations or processing,” she said. “New enzyme technology is now available to be applied in sweet bakery items.”

Looking at the big picture, Mr. McKeown found the idea of water management via enzyme choice gaining traction. “Using newer enzyme technology, water absorption can be manipulated so that processing and baking is positively impacted,” he said. “These enzymes are becoming more specific and functional leading to ­reduced energy needs without impacting finished product qualities.”

Making the switch

First, a word of caution. Enzymes do have extraordinary potential to cut or entirely replace chemical additives, but the road to clean-label formulating can hold obstacles. For example, a little bit of an enzyme goes a long way. In a solution of amylose, just one molecule of beta-amylase generates 20,000 molecules of maltose per second. A miscue on usage levels for an emulsifier doesn’t have that kind of effect.

“People need to realize that it is not 1:1,” Mr. van den Berg cautioned. “Additives can be difficult to mimic exactly, and enzymes can be more sensitive in application.”

Like other experts consulted for this article, he urged users to consult with supplier companies that tailor compound enzyme blends specifically for bakery applications. “Our industry partners can help,” Mr. van den Berg said. “We are enzyme experts, but we rely heavily on the baking expertise of our partners. It’s their applications knowledge that best suits the baker customer. There will be a need for testing in making these changes, and our industry partners are good at that.”

Mr. McKeown’s advice was similar: Work with your bakery ingredient supplier and set up a transition plan. “Discuss your product needs and begin to incorporate cleaner label components in a slow, methodical manner,” he said. With so many choices, don’t try to do too much too quickly.

Look at the entire formula before starting. “We typically suggest taking a look at the entire formula,” said Ms. Knott. This approach provides the perspective of a clean slate and may also reduce bowl costs. “Oftentimes, we see bakeries that work on one additive at a time. However, this can create a situation where you are using more enzymes than are necessary or that are impeding the function of others.”

Mr. Fatula, too, advised formulators to work in stages. “When removing unwanted additives, do it one by one,” he said. “And do the easiest removals and replacements first. You can easily learn that in the total performance of the finished product, many may not even be necessary.”

Take an approach that emphasizes expected product performance. First, identify which ingredients to reduce or remove, Ms. Sargent advised. Also, determine the functionality to be retained.

Such practicalities apply to the production floor, too. “When using more enzyme-based dough conditioners or bread improvers, bakers need more discipline in respect to processing times and conditions than when using chemical additive ingredients,” Mr. Devos said.

In times to come, bakers can expect even more diversity from enzymes that aid bakery productivity. Today’s shelf life extension, clean-label formulating and acrylamide abatement activities are the tip of the iceberg. “The world is made of enzymes,” Ms. Knott said. “There are endless opportunities with them, and many different types have not yet been discovered.”