Some foodservice operators take the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, while others think things are never good enough, according to chef Leo Spizzirri, a Chicago native and first-generation Italian American with deep roots in the pizza and baking industries. He spoke about “tinkering with dough recipes” at the recent 38th annual International Pizza Expo.

One way to tinker with the dough used to manufacture pizza crusts, tortillas and flatbreads — three categories booming in both foodservice and retail categories — is to include emulsifying ingredients, which can improve production, shelf life, appearance and the overall performance of dough.

“Emulsifiers are used to stabilize the interactions between oil and water by reducing surface tension or, more simply put, emulsifiers bind oil and water,” said Jennifer Farrell, research and development manager, Gonnella Baking Co., Schaumburg, Ill. “Due to this fact, we can certainly see a reduction in staling and increased pliability in various doughs and breads, like tortillas and pitas. Often, we see increased performance in the bake itself, in terms of bake height on a pizza dough or softness in a tortilla, depending on the type of emulsifier.”

In most doughs, emulsifiers are not needed to prevent the dough from separating into oil and water phases. Mobility is limited by dough consistency, as the viscous dough prevents the fat from moving around freely. That’s why emulsifiers are commonly referred to as surfactants in the baking industry.

“Emulsifiers interact at the molecular surface,” said Tenu Adeosun, senior research scientist, Vantage Food. “By coating the surface of starches, they can delay the starch/air interactions that contribute to staling.”

Emulsifiers may also interact with gluten proteins during mixing. This helps strengthen the dough and stabilize it to withstand excessive kneading.

Emulsifiers vary in functionality, with many doughs using more than one in a systems-type approach. These systems will differ for fresh, frozen and parbaked dough, and bakers must consider other parameters such as shelf life, distribution and temperature variations. Emulsifiers come in a variety of forms ranging from shortening-like materials to powdered or beaded forms to liquids. The original bakery emulsifier comes in a shell.

Eggs are a natural source of lecithin, a phospholipid that functions as an emulsifier in baked goods; however, eggs are not typically used in doughs intended for pizzas, tortillas or flatbreads. That’s why some bakers use commercially produced lecithin ingredients obtained from corn or soybeans. These ingredients can extend the shelf life of yeast-raised baked products, such as pizza crusts, by slowing starch retrogradation. Lecithin also strengthens gluten to improve both the elasticity and extensibility of yeast-raised doughs, which make them more machinable. The improved gluten strength results in higher gas retention, yielding better volume and crumb structure.

Mono- and diglycerides, which occur naturally as minor constituents in fats and oils, function as emulsifiers in doughs. Commercial mono- and diglycerides are typically manufactured using a chemical process to attach specific fatty acids to certain hydroxyl groups to obtain the desired functionality.

Diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides, or DATEM, is made by chemically manipulating mono- and diglycerides into more polarized compounds. The result is a more efficient emulsifier. When monoglycerides are reacted with ethylene oxide, the result is an emulsifier known as ethoxylated monoglyceride (EMG). Both DATEM and EMG are valued for their dough strengthening properties; however, they are poor crumb softeners. Emulsifiers with the best crumb softening effect tend to be inferior dough stabilizers. That’s why a systems approach is often best.

Some chemically produced emulsifiers exert both dough stabilizing and crumb softening action. When used at the recommended maximum level of 0.5% based on flour weight, calcium stearoyl lactylate (CSL), for example, increases dough absorption, measurably improves dough mixing tolerance and machinability, boosts volume, and enhances grain and texture, crust tenderness and maintains properties of baked pizza crust. Another is sodium stearoyl lactylate (SSL), a free-flowing powder that’s insoluble in water but readily soluble in hot fats and oils. When used at the recommended levels for a specific application, with a maximum of 0.5% based on flour weight, SSL increases dough absorption, strengthens gluten structure and improves mixing tolerance, machinability and overall quality.

“The role of emulsifiers greatly depends on the ingredients and processing conditions of each application,” Mr. Adeosun said.

Vantage Food offers specialized hydrated emulsifier packages designed for pizza doughs and flatbreads.

“We also provide an assortment of shortenings and liquid shortenings that provide the needed fat content and emulsifier functionality from lecithin and mono- and diglycerides,” Mr. Adeosun said.

The functionality emulsifiers provide in a pizza dough can range from product quality to the very strength of the product.

“In pizza doughs, emulsifiers can ensure a crust that is crispy on the outside and soft and airy on the inside, as well as help prevent tearing and enhance the color of the finished crust,” said Ralf Tschenscher, baking business development manager, Lesaffre.

Emulsifiers play many roles in tortilla manufacturing, from aiding in gluten formation and reducing stickiness to shortening mixing time and maintaining uniform moisture content throughout processing.

“The use of emulsifiers in tortilla production leads to uniform dough balls with better sheetability and reduced tearing,” Mr. Tschenscher said.

This leads to solving many challenges finished tortillas face once stacked and packaged together.

“In tortillas, ingredients with emulsifying properties are used mainly to reduce the tendency of tortillas of sticking together, to improve rollability, improve softness and to prevent breakage, especially during their first five to seven days of storage,” said Brian Fatula, vice president, Lallemand Baking. “In flatbread, such as pitas and naan bread, where moisture retention and rollability are paramount, ingredients with emulsifying properties will be used to prevent starch recrystallization and water redistribution.”

There are additional considerations with frozen doughs for pizzas and flatbreads. Any type of dough that undergoes freezing and frozen storage prior to proofing and baking will suffer damage to the gluten-starch network, according to Mr. Fatula.

“The starch granule structure will reorganize, and the gluten network will weaken by the breakage of the disulfide bonds,” he said. “Unless the dough is heavily oxidized and strengthened, it will show signs of reduced stability and decreased volume.”

While fresh tortillas and flatbreads may use emulsifiers to improve rollability and shelf life, with frozen dough it’s all about maintaining strength as the dough undergoes the freeze-thaw cycle.

“When working with frozen dough, maintaining dough strength is the key to ensuring quality in the finished product,” said Yanling Yin, PhD and director of bakery applications, Corbion. “The dough strength can be reduced due to large ice crystal formation during freezing or freeze-thaw cycles. Emulsifiers can help minimize water migration during freezing and the formation of large ice crystals during storage.”

For parbaked products, unacceptable chewiness or hardness is the main concern. That can be eased with the addition of mono- and diglycerides, according to Dr. Yin.

There’s a growing momentum among consumers for nontraditional pizza doughs, tortillas and flatbreads. Some are formulated to be gluten-free, while others are high in protein or fiber. Others are infused with vegetables or legumes, such as cauliflower, chickpeas and sweet potatoes, but are still wheat-based.

“Some consumers may accept a change in texture or other eating qualities when changing the flour system,” said Margaret Walsh, senior scientist, Corbion. “However, other consumers may prefer items that mimic at least some of the qualities of wheat flour-based versions. Emulsifiers may be able to help modify these characteristics.”

These textural changes are the result of gluten elimination or reduction. Without sufficient gluten, a dough loses its ability to retain strength and elasticity.

“Nontraditional doughs infused with vegetables, legumes or are high in protein or fiber usually require higher amounts of emulsifiers, and often in combination with enzymes, to enhance the eating and shelf-life qualities of the finished baked good,” said Art Posch, platform development manager, Kemin Food Technologies.

That’s because the added protein and fiber interfere with the building blocks of the dough.

“With the addition of extra protein or fiber, doughs need more emulsification and ingredient solutions to degrade the fibers, which interfere physically with the gluten network,’’ Mr. Fatula said.

Ancient grains such as quinoa, teff and buckwheat are being used in better-for-you baked goods. They are gluten-free and contribute plant protein and fiber.

“Without gluten, the dough could lose its viscoelastic structure. It will have poor machinability, major handling issues and poor yield,” Mr. Posch said. “Mouthfeel is also affected by these grains. Finished products can have a bitter aftertaste and a dry and brittle mouthfeel. Hydrocolloids provide suitable solutions to dough texture.

“Using clean label hydrocolloids, such as citrus fibers, bamboo fiber or other vegetable fibers with lentil proteins has shown similar structural integrity to regular dough,” Mr. Posch said. “Ingredient optimization is required for each recipe based on finished product functionality.”

This article is an excerpt from the May 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Emulsifiers, click here.