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james 04-18-2007 05:42 AM

Flour additives
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Can anyone weigh in (hah hah) on flour additives. I bought a number of bags of flour in France to try out, and I was a little surprised to see: emulsifier E471, a handing agent (traitement de la farine), absorbic acid and enzymes on the ingredient list, along with something I don't understand -- levain de ble desactive; inactive leavening? Is that added gluten?

Anyway, the flour is very nice and I am making a baguette for dinner. It is a nice golden color, a less fine ground than Italian Tipo 00, and it has a lot more body than Italian general purpose flour. I am guess that it has less gluten than American bread flour. It's really nice, but why the processing and additives?

One other fun thing to point out. In the land of bread, there is a great range of flours in the supermarket. General purpose, bread, cake, crepe, pain campagne (a mix of wheat and whole wheat for natural rising), whole wheat, and "high extraction." The crepe flour is great, and it is "guaranteed to not be lumpy." How stores allocate shelf space says a lot about country's priorities. In Italy, it's pasta, fresh vegetables, and olive oil. :)

Any input on flour additives?

jengineer 04-18-2007 07:46 AM

Re: Flour additives
Emulsifiers are usually used as thickening agents, stabilizers (extend shelf life), or gelling agents E471 is a Mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids (glyceryl monostearate, glyceryl distearate) and can be found in foods within the EU, typically bread, cakes, chewing gum, toffee, caramels, desserts, ice cream, margarine and pasta.

what does it do? from the site

"Add oil to water and you'll never get the two to mix - at least, not until you add an emulsifier to the equation. Emulsifiers are molecules composed of a water-loving and an oil-loving part. Together they make it possible for water and oil droplets to become finely dispersed in each other, creating a stable, harmonious emulsion.

Mayonnaise is a classic example. In this emulsion, oil and vinegar are brought together by egg yolk, which acts as the emulsifier. Another well-known emulsion is butter, in which 20% water is dispersed in 80% fat with the aid of emulsifiers such as milk proteins.

Most other applications require emulsifiers with more far-reaching functional properties. Over the decades a wide range has been developed for many special purposes. "

So this additive helps you make a smooth bread

a lengthy list of them are found at


Ascorbic Acid
any high school student worth their sodium chloride should be able to tell you that ascorbic acid is another name for Vitamin C. Other than helping prevent scurvy during long voayage out to sea it is also used as a natural preservative. Side note there are a vew variants of the form of C. I am allergic to the Acedic ones such as the variety that comes from oranges, tangerines, lemons, and of course tomatoes to name a few. My daughter on the other hand is allergic to the Ascorbic type.

This additive gives you a long shelf lefe and helkps the flour from going rancid.

I fall short here as this is more biology than chemistry. Let's see what Jim has to say. I bet the enzymes help in the raising and fermenting of the dough.


CanuckJim 04-18-2007 09:48 AM

Re: Flour additives
James, JE,

Been away for a few days, so I'm behind on the Forum and just about everything else. I'm a little shaky on some of the details regarding flour additives, mostly because we don't run into them as much in N Am.

Generally speaking, the flours grown in Europe are softer than here. More extensible, sure, but also lower in gluten and protein. Caputo seems to solve this by blending wheats from different sources to bring the levels up to where they want. Our bread flours, for example, are the result of red wheat that thrives in the northern parts of the continent. This makes a hard flour with good protein and high gluten. Wheats grown in more southern parts are softer and often used for things like cake and biscuit flours. All purpose flour is usually a blend of the two.

I suspect the French (for patriotic reasons?) don't blend their flours with imports, hence the additives. JE's right on with the emulsifiers. Looks like they're after smooth dough without too much hand kneading.

Ascorbic acid is another matter. It will certainly add to shelf life, but it also imparts a certain sharpness to the finished product that mimics a natural leaven to some degree. French bakers use it a lot.

This is also true of enzymes. When you make a wild yeast starter and it has matured over time, you also get lactobacilli and enzymes in the mix, because they like the environment and byproducts of yeast activity. Lactobacilli are really the major contributor to the sour flavor we all enjoy, while the enzymes act to break out natural sugars from the grain. All this takes time. My suspicion is that the French add enzymes to mimic this result and speed it up. That way, you'd get some of the flavor without the long rise times and retardation necessary to achieve it.

I also suspect that levain de ble desactive really is vital wheat gluten added for strength, but a quick check of the books doesn't yield a firm answer.

By contrast, some North American flour manufacturers use various gasses to bleach their flours. Most, if not all of these, are banned in Europe, and there is one that the Canadian authorities have banned here. This is the major reason I never use bleached flour. Also, unless they're organic, our flours are "enriched" with vitamins like niacin. This is a direct result of The Great Depression, when govenments required these additions to cut down on the incidence of deficiency conditions like rickets. Not at all sure they're still necessary, but they are still used.

We had a sprited and rather lengthy discussion of flour types during my workshop over the weekend, and most of the participants really thought that flour was just flour, no matter the source. Not.

That's a bit sketchy and incomplete, I suspect. What we really need is to attract a miller to the forum.


carioca 04-18-2007 04:17 PM

Re: Flour additives
Salut les copains!

levain de ble desactive is starter (i.e. sourdough - source: Routledge French technical dictionary, Vol. 1) made from wheat but deactivated - presumably so it doesn't interfere with whatever is being used by the consommateur in his/her dough. My guess is it's there as a flavouring agent - les americains certainly know all about such tricks :-)

A bientot,


CanuckJim 04-18-2007 04:24 PM

Re: Flour additives

Makes great sense. Where were my fledgling French translation abilities? That would all add up to an approximation of a levain dough, but added to the flour.


james 04-19-2007 01:14 AM

Re: Flour additives
This is fun. The bread definitely has a slight sourdough smell and taste. The recipe on the package calls for 500gr of flour, 300gr water (60%) hydration, 1 1/2 tsp of salt and two sachets of Leveure Boulangerie (their brand).

I think they are shooting for a fast, everyday bread, and they call for mixing, kneading, 1 hour 10 minutes of rising, and 40 minutes baking.

My first attempt was only so-so. I blame operator error (I didn't give my boule enough time time rise before baking, but hey, it was time for dinner). I am trying to do better totday, and started my dough last night.

I don't think I would buy it every day, even if I had the choice, but it's great learning something new.

james 04-19-2007 01:22 AM

Re: Flour additives
One more thing. I can now see that I also bought a bag of flour called "Supreme" with is 100% Wheat Flour Type 45. I get to try that next.

I can see that the "Bread" flour is a concoction put together for easy home baking. It would probably work well in a bread machine, but not great of hearth bread.

james 04-19-2007 01:07 PM

Re: Flour additives
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Well, my second attempt was a lot better that the first, and the bread has an OK crust and a more well developed crumb, but it isn't good; and I tried pretty hard -- this may put me off additives forever. The dough really does not respond the way a pure flour would, and the dough conditioner gives it a funny, almost artificial feeling and texture. The color and smell are OK, but I don't think it is worth the trade-offs.

Next up, the Supreme flour. I still have a bag of Pain de Campage, and the the last third of my Pain flour (1.5kg bags) so I can keep experimenting with the formulated flours, but this is it. No additives. I am looking forward to the Supreme.

I guess it's time to research French Flour Type 45. Still, Italian Tipo 00 is a more memorable name. :)

dmun 04-19-2007 04:17 PM

Re: Flour additives
Here's a curious article from "how stuff works" about flour nutrition research:


What the researchers did is take various types of whole-grain wheat dough and mess around with three factors: fermenting time (when the dough is left to rise); baking temperature and baking time. They found that increasing each factor increased the levels of antioxidants in the dough. Baking the dough for 14 minutes instead of seven minutes increased antioxidants up to 80 percent. Higher baking temperatures, going from 400 F (204 C) to 550 F (285 C), raised antioxidant levels up to 60 percent. And extending the fermenting time from the usual 18 hours to 48 hours boosted antioxidants up to 100 percent. The exact results depended on the type of flour and the antioxidant test the researchers applied. But overall, the results were very good for a healthier pizza dough. The scientists believe antioxidants levels will really skyrocket if pizza makers implement all of the increases, although it's unclear how a pizza won't burn if it's baked both hotter and longer.
It seems that the stuff we do to make pizza taste better (whole grains, longer fermentation, hotter baking) make it better for you. Now, about that cheese...

james 04-26-2007 02:46 PM

Re: Flour additives
1 Attachment(s)
I made baguettes with the good (Supreme) type 45 flour from France, and I can report that it is very nice. I have definitely gone off flour additives forever -- the two flours were completely different. The baguettes were fresh and they had great flavor, and the crust was crunchy, without an artificial smell or taste.

I started the dough 24 hours ahead, and it worked much more as you would expect. Here's a photo -- the bread was better than the photo.

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