14 Nov Understanding enzymes in breadmaking
Enzymes are proteins obtained from living organisms. They are essential for sustaining life insofar as they govern the biochemical reactions taking place within the cells. Plants, animals, bacteria, fungi… enzymes coexist within all living systems. In Man, for example, enzymes play a major role during digestion, by breaking down compounds in our food to make them more easily assimilable by the organism. In a young calf, for example, some enzymes assist in the coagulation of ingested cow’s milk, thereby enabling the young animal to digest it; the same enzymes, known as rennet, are used to assist curdling in milk for the production of cheese.
Highly specific catalysts
There is a huge variety of enzymes, each acting on a specific substrate during a specific biochemical reaction. Commonly, enzymes are named after their substrate, and end with the suffix “-ase”. Thus we may speak of amylases, proteases, lipases, etc. The specificity of an enzyme’s action arises due to its unique 3D configuration. As with all proteins, this three-dimensional structure is very sensitive to changes in the physico-chemical conditions of the environment, and especially to heat. When baking bread, there is a gradual increase in crumb temperature, and enzyme producers consider that in the classic breadmaking processes, enzymes are rendered inactive by baking.
Enzymes offer solutions to technological needs
The natural characteristics of enzymes in living organisms are used for technological purposes in many fields, such as food-processing, textiles or even the detergent industry… Depending on the type of application, the enzymes are chosen for their specific functionalities and appropriate purity criteria. The required assessment and authorisation procedures differ according to the industrial field in question, the food-processing sector being one of the most rigorous on the subject.
Sources of enzymes for breadmaking
The enzymes used in breadmaking come from various sources. Some of them are naturally present in cereal grains (referred to as endogenous enzymes). Wheat grain, for example, contains the enzymes required for its germination, such as amylases: these help break down the glucose chains which make up starch (the grain’s energy source) into simple sugars to be used by the cells to multiply and form the new seedling. The enzymes naturally present in grain are found in the flour. In breadmaking, they convert the starch into fermentable sugars, which will be available for the yeasts and will enable them to produce the CO2required for the raising of the dough.
However, the endogenous enzyme content in flour varies and is sometimes insufficient for sustaining the yeast’s metabolic activity. For this reason, bakers use exogenous enzymes. These may be obtained from animal or plant organisms. This is, for example, the case of diastatic malt obtained from sprouting grains, an action which contributes to increased enzyme activity. They may also be produced by some micro-organisms that are particularly well-equipped in terms of enzyme material in living organisms: mould (filamentous fungi) or bacteria. These micro-organisms permit the rapid and abundant production of a slew of diverse enzymes.
Enzymes are not GMOs
In order to produce significant amounts of the enzymes used in breadmaking, manufacturers thus produce fermentations aimed at multiplying the amount of enzymes from a selection of micro-organisms and a given substrate. The micro-organisms used are obtained via different methods, such as collection, hybridization, mutagenesis, or genetic engineering, then selected for their ability to produce the required enzyme. The enzymes thus obtained are then extracted, purified and standardised. They therefore contain no trace of the genetic material of the micro-organisms from which they were produced. Furthermore, with regard to European labelling, the enzymes are named after their activity and not in reference to the micro-organisms from which they were produced.
Safety, the vital pre-requisite for the use of enzymes in breadmaking
Authorities in many countries have introduced strict assessment procedures before they can authorise the use of an enzyme in the food-processing business. Enzyme manufacturers must thus file applications in order to demonstrate that the proposed use meets a technological need and that the enzyme in question presents no health risk for the consumer. Each enzyme is thus subjected to toxicological tests and its genuine merits and the consumer exposure issue are assessed.