Trends in Food: Clean Label Bread

By Emanueli Backes


Clean label bread

You go to a grocery store to buy bread. Suddenly, you are hit by a huge number of bread labels claiming the use of ingredients of natural origin, without – or with low – additives, and free of genetically modified organisms. If you are an enthusiast of the latest food trends, you might be familiar with the subject. However, if not, you may be wondering how this kind of label filled out almost all the bakery products shelves.

Driven by consumers’ desire to know what is in their food, where it came from, and how it is processed, the request for clean labels has been increasing over the past few years. – Note: The aspect of clean labels in general were better discussed on another SMF blog post (“Coming clean…about clean labels”) that I truly recommend to you to read. – Although there is no rule that states what clean label bread is made of, ‘clean’ food is commonly associated with the use of familiar, recognizable, and allergen-friendly ingredients, in addition to being minimally processed.

In bread formulation, apart from wheat flour, salt, yeast, shortening, and other optional ingredients (eggs, sugar, dehydrated fruits, nuts, etc.), it is common practice to use additives. These substances intend to modify the bread’s chemical and sensorial properties as well as conserve it. The most common ones in bakery products are oxidants, emulsifiers, and preservatives1. However, their use has currently been raising consumer’s concerns, especially since the latest clean labels demands.

Regarding this, the bakery industry has been investing in clean label versions of its products. In order to meet consumers’ desires, products without synthetic ingredients, e.g., increased as more consumer-friendly alternatives.

Photo by Irina from Pexels.

Recent research in clean label bread versions

So far, many interesting research projects have been carried out with the aim of obtaining high quality breads that replace synthetic additives for natural ingredients. However, the main challenge is to achieve this without compromising its taste, texture, or shelf-life.

A recent study investigated lime juice as a substitute for synthetic preservatives in bread formulations due to its acidification potential1. Although it increases bread’s shelf-life – compared to a formulation without preservatives – modifications in the dough were observed, such as volume reduction, loss of softness, and modification of crumb and crust color. However, according to the authors, the association of lime juice and a few enzymes made it possible to obtain breads with volume, softness, and conservation closer to the control formulation (market standard), even after storage, using no additives. Promising results, right?

Another approach that aimed to extend bakery products shelf-life by avoiding its spoilage and replacing chemical preservatives was recently conducted2. For this, fermentates – food ingredients produced by the fermentation of a variety of raw materials – were evaluated as antifungal agents. Among the tests performed, it was found out that the replacement of a chemical preservative (calcium propionate) for different fermentates produced breads that were at least as shelf stable as the reference and also sensorially accepted. These results emphasize the use of fermentates as a label-friendly solution for fungal growth in replace of chemical preservatives in bread formulations.

In a different research, hard red winter (HRW) wheat flour was used as natural ingredients to replace chemical dough improvers3. When it comes to bread, two of the most important parameters that state its quality are higher loaf volume and lower firmness. Interestingly, samples blended with HRS wheat flour exhibited better dough and bread properties than the ones with commercial additives. It indicates that better bread quality can be obtained by using HRS wheat flour blends, making it a great alternative to be used as a clean label ingredient to replace some commercial strengtheners in bread production.

Photo by Jonathan from Pexels.

Important remarks

Although all these clean label movements emerged from consumers demand for healthier and safer products, we need to take a step back and not jump to conclusions. There seems to be a red flags when it comes to products with ‘chemical-sounding’ ingredients. However, some important remarks must be state in order to avoid such confusion.

The first thing is that consumers claim for less and simpler ingredients. However, it is quite challenging for the food industry to obtain a well-in-quality product, with the same shelf-life, and physical features as those produced with different ingredients4.

In addition, some misunderstandings have been observed among consumers regarding the regulatory process for ingredients and general health. So, it is largely the lack of information on the subject that makes consumers afraid when they see an unknown name with more than one syllable in the list of their food ingredients. Notice that I am not stating that these synthetic ingredients are safe or dangerous. However, trends like that generalize some difficult-to-read ingredients as “unclean” – which cannot be stated without serious studies.

In summary, apart from producing high-quality, and safe food – which is a basic right of every consumer – I’d venture to say what is required in this scenario: education. Consumers should be educated to have well-grounded critical thinking about their food. Thus, they will not be at the mercy of sensationalisms, but will be prepared to demand from the food industry quality, safe, and pleasing to the palate products.


[1] Scarton, M., Ganancio, J.R.C., Avelar, M.H.M., Clerici, M.T.P.S., Steel, C.J. (2121). Lime juice and enzymes in clean label pan bread: baking quality and preservative effect. Journal of Food Science and Technology.

[2] Samapundo, S., Devlieghere, F., Vroman, A., Eeckhout, M. (2017). Antifungal activity of fermentates and their potential to replace propionate in bread. LWT – Food Science and Technology.

[3] Rahman, M.M., Simsek, S. (2020). Go clean label: replacement of commercial dough strengtheners with hard red spring wheat flour in bread formulations. Journal of Food Science and Technology.

[4] Clean label movement faces consumer confusion and regulatory hurdles. <>.

Emanueli Backes | Linkedin

SMF Blog Writer

Emanueli is a Brazilian enthusiastic for food science and technologies.  Backes graduated with a degree in Food Engineering and Masters in Quality and Food Safety. She is now pursuing her PhD in Food Science. Backes research focus is on organic synthesis of new antioxidant compounds through enzymatic reactions.

Emanueli loves education and science popularization; she believes everything can be demystified, uncomplicated, and taught.

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