- Food and Cooking
What is Bread Improver
What Is Bread Improver?
Broadly speaking anything you add to a bread recipe that improves the bread could be called a "bread improver". The term is most commonly used to describe a range of natural or chemical additives that speed up the process of dough development.
Bread improver is especially important in large scale bread production but is also often found in bread machine pre-mixes and other recipes baked in the home kitchen. Bread improver may also be known by other names such as yeast improver, yeast food, dough enhancer, dough conditioner or bread enhancer.
For the home baker looking for a way to make even better bread at home there are plenty of choices. You can even find improvers made from entirely natural ingredients that are good for you as well as your bread.
Why Use Bread Improver?
The traditional methods of bread production generally involve the use of "sponge and dough" methods whereby part of the dough (the "sponge", or "biga" )is made earlier and allowed to ferment over a period of time. The time required depends on the type of bread being made and may vary from several hours to a full day or even longer.
With the advent of large commercial bakeries producing square condensed loaves a faster method of bread production was required. By eliminating the sponge stage of production the problems of storing large amounts of dough is also removed. Doughs using bread improver without an initial fermentation stage of production are often referred to as "no-time" or "instant" doughs, although a proving stage is still required to allow the bread to rise before baking.
Home bread machines are designed to use a similar process as the large scale bakeries, with the main ingredients all added together and no initial "sponge" stage is required. Most off the shelf bread pre-mixes made for bread machines already contain bread improver. It's even possible for the home bread maker to purchase bread improver pre-packaged off the shelf for use in their own recipes.
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So What Does Bread Improver Actually Do?
There are 2 main functions performed by most types of bread improver. One is to assist in the gas production (carbon dioxide) during the fermentation process. The other is to help retain the gas by aiding the development and strengthening the gluten which forms the cell structure of the bread. The gluten is essentially made up of proteins, the main 3 being glutenin, gliadin and globulin.
Fermentation is assisted by making more food available to yeast. Yeast is a living organism that consumes simple sugars and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol as waste products. In bread production it's the carbon dioxide that gives volume to the bread. The alcohol evaporates during the baking process and is not present in the finished loaf of bread.
Bread improver's contain amylase enzymes that help to break starch down into simple sugars. The yeast itself also produces amylase enzymes as part of it's natural digestive system but it is a slow process. The addition of enzymes make more food (sugar) available to the yeast in a shorter period of time. Other ingredients such as phosphates and ammonium chloride may also be added as nutrients for the yeast.
Other enzymes (protease) and chemicals in the bread improver assist in the development and softening of gluten. They both strengthen the gluten and make it more malleable so that the cells formed within the bread can stretch easily without tearing. This results in better gas retention and increased bread volume. Again the yeast itself produces protease, but by adding more the process is made to go much faster.
A Good Bread Machine Makes Baking Easy!
More Things You Can Do With Your Bread Machine
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What is in Bread Improver?
The actual ingredients used in bread improver can vary but the following are some typical examples. Some other chemicals that were commonly used until the 1990s are also mentioned. The ingredients are usually mixed into a soy flour filler as only small quantiites are required. The soy flour used is usually enzyme active (contains helpful enzymes) and adds additional protein to the mix.
Amylase enzymes - assist to break starch down into simple sugars
Protease enzymes - strengthens gluten
Ascorbic Acid - strengthens gluten
Sodium Metabisulfate - gluten softening
L-cysteine - gluten softening
Hydrochloride - gluten softening
Ammonium Chloride - food for yeast
Phosphates - food for yeast
Until the 1990's potassium bromate (often simply called "bromate") was also commonly used to strengthen gluten and calcium propianate was used as a preservative. Since then bromate has been identified as being a possible carcinogen and calcium propionate has been linked to Attention Deficit Disorder. Bromate can still be found in some bread improvers used in the USA.