Musings on commercial bread

I recently tried out getting milk and more from Smith Brothers Farms, a local product and delivery service here in the Seattle area. The milk is a little more expensive, and I still need to figure out if I really can taste the difference, but I like the idea of buying locally sourced milk (in addition, if I am wearing my pretentious Pacific Northwest Consumer hat, the organic milk is certified from Oregon Tilth in addition to USDA organic).

Their introductionary offer gave me $10 to spend so I decided to try some of their other products as well, including some bagels from a Seattle bakery.

I was looking over the ingredients list, and here is what is in them

  • high gluten wheat flour
  • water
  • salt
  • wheat gluten
  • brown sugar
  • yeast
  • cornmeal

these are all expected bagel ingredients (most bagels are left to rest on cornmeal covered surfaces, for instance)

  • malt

as far as I know, malt is often used for sweetness and flavor enhancing in breads, so no surprise to see some malt in here, though I haven’t seen it in home bagel recipes.

  • soy flour
  • soy oil

I wonder about these. Is the oil in the poaching liquid, or to add fat to the dough? Why the soy flour, does it help with the texture? There is nothing bad with soy as such, but I am seeing it in a lot of commercially produced goods, and I am wondering if it really is necessary.

  • dextrose
  • calcium propionate
  • guar gum
  • enzymes

so now we have reached the strange stuff. Dextrose is another form of sugar, and I wonder why it is added in addition to the brown sugar and the malt? Calcium propionate is a common preservative. Guar gum I can only assume is added for texture, and who knows what ‘enzymes’ covers? Enzymes is a class of chemical substances used to catalyze chemical processes – you will find it in anything from dairy (rennin, for instance) to washing powder to the rubber industry. Enzymes in baking break down the starch in flour to product sugar for the yeast to interact with. As far as I know you end up with a bunch of naturally occurring ones when you bake, but it looks like they are additionally added?

These are locally produced bagels, so I wonder about the need for the preservatives too – I wouldn’t mind a shorter expiration date and it is not like they are shipping them all over the country. All of this stuff (and more) wouldn’t surprise me in commercial bagels I would pick up in Safeway, for instance, but it is interesting that even local ‘artisan’ bagels had all these additives too.

Another reason to bake yourself :). I have tried making bagels, but they didn’t rise as uniform as I liked, and the poaching liquid had them taste too much like pretzels. I guess I need another try. The texture was good though (no guar gum needed!).

Do you have a great bagel recipe?

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