Describing bread ingredients

In this section we look at the ingredients added to a basic dough of yeast, flour and water to get the bread we see on sale. Some of the most commonly used ingredients and the reasons why they are used are described below.


Salt not only provides its own flavour in bread but also helps to bring out the natural flavours of ingredients associated with it. Bread made without salt is extremely bland and virtually inedible. Salt assists with improving dough consistency so that it is easier to handle in the bakery. It helps the fermentation (rising) process by strengthening the protein network so that it traps more gas. This makes for a larger loaf.

Sugar and sweeteners

Sugar is added primarily to doughs to aid the fermentation process. During fermentation (rising) the yeast acts upon sugar to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. The alcohol produced evaporates during baking and the carbon dioxide remains to inflate the dough. The presence of sugar in the loaf helps to keep it moist, because sugar attracts moisture. Its ability to caramelise can improve crust colour and a small amount of sugar also improves the flavour of bread.

Acidity regulators

Acidity regulators are used to increase the acidity of a dough;

  1. To help control dough fermentation or leavening and reduce spoilage.
  2. Their main purpose is to prevent mould or bacteria growth in the loaf.
  3. Examples of these include vinegar, acetic acid (the acid from vinegar), citric acid and sodium diacetate.

Fats and emulsifiers

Fats and emulsifiers improve the volume, texture, crumb, colour, and softness of bread. They can also improve slicing characteristics, the amount of oven spring (how much the dough jumps in height and therefore volume when it is put in the oven), and improve the keeping quality of the bread.

An example of a bread emulsifier is lecithin, which is produced commercially from the soya bean. Lecithin may be added to bread recipes to help combine the mixture of water and vegetable oils present in the dough which otherwise would not form stable mixtures.

Fats have the power of controlling how fast the essential protein (gluten) network develops during breadmaking and can also make the dough easier to work with. They also add flavour and are used in almost all products.

Milk and milk powder

Milk helps keep a loaf moist and gives buns a soft crust. It is also added to improve the nutritional value and protein level in bread.

Malt flour and malt extracts

Malt flour is made from carefully sprouted, then kiln dried barley kernels. Some malt extracts are used to give taste and colour to bread, especially grain and wholemeal breads.

Other malt flours can be used to produce sugar from the starch in flour so that the yeast has more sugar to work on. They also help bread to stay soft and moist.

Flour treatment agents

A major flour treatment agent used in New Zealand is ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). The addition of this agent helps to strengthen the dough so it can retain more of the gas produced by the yeast. This helps to produce loaves of better volume and texture.


Enzymes are used to speed up the breakdown of starch into sugars that the yeast can use, which helps the dough rise more quickly. They improve the volume and crumb softness in bread. A common enzyme naturally present in flour is alpha-amylase.

Soyabean flour

Soyabean flour used in bakeries usually contains fats and enzymes. One of the enzymes reacts with oxygen present in air and bleaches any yellow colour and proteins that are present. This produces a whiter bread crumb. The addition of soyabean flour improves loaf volume, crumb softness and the keeping quality of bread.

Gluten flour

Gluten is the protein present in flour which is responsible for the structure and stickiness of bread dough. Gluten is mainly found in the white flour component of milled wheat. Cereals other than wheat do not contain gluten protein to any great extent, if at all.

To obtain gluten in a concentrated form, flour is mixed with water and the starch is washed out. The remaining gluten can be dried and bagged.

Gluten is added to doughs when the gluten in the dough being made is not present in high enough quality or quantity to produce a good quality loaf of bread. Gluten needs to be added to ensure the dough is strong enough to 'hold up' any extra components added to a recipe, for example wholemeal flour, wheat germ, oats, kibbled wheat, triticale and corn. Gluten is also added to wheat flour if it is not a very good bread baking quality flour. It helps to improve the volume and crumb texture of loaves.