Thursday, October 16, 2008

Loaves and Labels

I’m learning all kinds of new things as I research the mysterious ingredients I find on food packaging. Just trying to identify the components in a loaf of bread has been most enlightening. I've discovered that the breads from my supermarket’s bakery contain an ingredient also used in the production of rubber and plastics (azodicarbonamide - used in the food industry as a wheat flour improver). I’ve discovered that all-purpose flour can be bleached with benzoyl peroxide. Yep, the same stuff I used to zap zits 20 years ago is also in my store-bought bread.

On the plus side, I’ve learned that suspicious-sounding biga is actually a starter used to make traditional Italian bread. It’s a type of pre-fermentation that seems rather complicated and makes me appreciate the work that goes into a local bakery’s Italian Country bread.

I also appreciate that the local bakery lists ingredients clearly on the front of the package. Not so with the supermarket bakery. I had to look up their bread ingredients online. Easy enough to find on their website, but because the information wasn’t on the package, I didn’t realize their bread contained unidentifiable and unpronounceable ingredients until after I purchased it. Lesson learned. Just because a product has a wholesome name doesn’t make it wholesome. Who would have thought that something as simple as whole wheat bread would contain an ingredient also found in Silly Putty and breast implants (Dimethylpolysiloxane - an anti-foaming agent. Because no one wants foamy bread, or putty, or boobs.)

I wonder how these ingredients make their way into such a variety of products. What sane person would try putting the active ingredient of acne medication into flour? Of course, they may have decided to use the bleaching agent from flour to make acne medication. I have no way of knowing which application came first. Either way, I marvel at the imagination it takes to make such a connection, even though I’m not sure I agree with the wisdom of the choice.

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