The dough conditioner Azodicarbonamide (ADA) made a splash in the news as a substance found in both many breads and yoga mats. Subway recently announced they would be removing it from all their products, joining a few countries in banning ADA as a food additive. Yet the FDA classifies ADA as GRAS, allowing levels of up to 45 ppms in flour. So, what’s the big deal?


Breaking it down

The issue is not so much with ADA itself, but with reactions caused by the additive. Azodicarbonamide does not react in dry flour, but during the mixing process. There, it quickly oxidizes with the sulfhydryl (SH) groups. While this improves the final product’s volume, grain texture and appearance, it also produces biurea

Biurea is a urea derivative that can hydrolyze into semicarbazide (SEM) from the oven heat. SEM, an animal carcinogen, shows up in the final bread product. Research shows the amount of SEM directly correlates to the amount of ADA used. If 30 mg/kg of ADA is used in the product, the concentration of SEM is 0.022 mg/kg. Research on SEM consumption in rats showed daily consumption of 40 mg/kg body weight caused alterations in a variety of body tissues.

The baking world is not in consensus with the safety of eating traces of SEM. ADA is banned in Australia and Europe as a food additive. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) ruled that SEM levels detected in packaged food is not a health concern, but exposure should be avoided if possible. The additive is still used in Brazil and Canada. In the U.S., ADA levels must be under 45 ppm and it must be declared in the statement of ingredients.

However, even if ADA is perfectly legal in America, that doesn’t mean consumers won’t shy away from it—especially with demand swinging towards clean label products. If your consumer base seems to be moving that way, then it may be time to consider finding alternatives for ADA.

How to Replace ADA

ADA is used as a fast maturing agent, dough conditioner and whitening agent. Enzymes are a versatile clean label substitute for dough conditioners. Lecithin, ascorbic acid and cultured wheat are also natural ingredients that can help with product quality.

Whether you replace ADA in your systems or not is of course up to you. Just remember it’s important to understand what the latest research says about any ingredient so you can make an informed decision that is best for your business and customers.

Looking for a place to learn how to bake cleanly and naturally? Come to our Science of Artisan Bread Baking Class in Portland, OR.