Q: What is this rubber stuff that I hear they’re putting in bread these days? How can they get away with that?
Answer: The ‘stuff’ that hit the news recently was azodicarbonamide, or ADA. In bread and dough it is used as a “dough conditioner.”
It does several things. One, it adds oxygen to the proteins, so that they stick to each other better. That lets them trap the carbon dioxide yeasts make, so the dough rises better and is not as sticky. It also works like baking powder, helping to produce some carbon dioxide itself, which also helps the dough to rise better.
Years ago, they had to grind the flour, then store it for months and months to let natural aging add oxygen to the proteins. Aged flour makes better bread than freshly ground flour does. But that takes time, the flour takes up space, and it is more likely to get bugs in it while it sits there aging.
In this day and age, speeding up the process means lower costs and cheaper flour.
ADA was approved for use in flour in 1962 and has been used ever since. The amount is only 1 tablespoon in every 100 pounds of flour. It is partly broken down during baking, and further broken down if you toast the bread. That’s not to say that they couldn’t study it again and decide to take it off the approved list, but for now it is considered safe and is legal.
It is used for similar reasons in many rubber/plastic products. It produces air bubbles, which make the rubber soft and spongy instead of hard, solid and flat. But many, many chemicals are used for food and for other industrial purposes, everything from vinegar to salt. So just because it’s in something else does not mean it’s not safe for food!
Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.