Bakers first harnessed the power of fermentation thousands of years ago. The practice goes back to at least the ancient Egyptian civilization.

“Just like wine and cheese, bread flavors are developed naturally over time through the process of fermentation,” said Liesbet Vandepoel, bakery product manager for Puratos USA.

Fermentation has not gone the way of hieroglyphics either. The practice in 2014 may produce specific flavor notes, and not only in artisan bread. Additionally, the interplay between enzymes and fermentation may allow bakers to forego chemicals such as azodicarbonamide (ADA) in the pursuit of simpler ingredient lists.

Adios, ADA?

Insight on how consumers view ADA soon may appear through sales at Subway. The chain began converting to bread free of ADA in 2013 and said all of its stores should have bread free of ADA this year.

ADA assists in the timing of fermentation. ADA and calcium peroxide both have rapid reaction rates and provide the appropriate oxidation potential during the mixing stage for proper dough development, according to the fourth edition of “Baking Science & Technology,” published by Sosland Publishing Co., Kansas City. The actions of the two oxidants differ in that they end at different points of the early fermentation stage.

“Fermentation is the foundation of yeast, enzymes and quality bread production,” said James Parker, vice-president of fermentation excellence at AB Mauri North America, St. Louis. “We believe quality fermentation — in conjunction with enzymes and enzyme synergies — will be the foundation of clean label products.”

AB Mauri North America recently launched ICS 66, a dough improver that provides similar process tolerance and product quality characteristics as typically seen when using ADA, said Paul Bright, product development manager.

Brian Walker, technical services manager for Horizon Milling, a joint venture between Cargill and CHS, said there are three ways to develop a yeast-leavened dough product properly: mechanical (mixing), chemical (ADA or other oxidation) and biochemical (fermentation). The three ways may work together.

“Time and temperature continue to be the key to successful production of bakery products in combination with the development methods of choice,” Mr. Walker said. “Chemicals can be replaced, but (doing so) can increase the time to develop the dough as well as potentially increase cost.”

Fermentation may be accomplished in various ways and give a product unique qualities.

“There is fermentation in any baked product where yeast is present,” Mr. Walker said. “If we must remove chemicals from the process, fermentation and/or mechanical development must be adjusted to optimize. Use of enzymes or other favorable additives can be used to compensate for changes needed to remove unfavorable additives.”

While “clean label” may mean taking out chemical-sounding ingredients to appease certain consumers, it does not necessarily mean a product is safer.

“First, I should state that I am not a big fan of the use of the words ‘clean label’ because we believe that the ingredients being utilized by the baking industry are F.D.A.-approved ingredients and have been safely used for years,” said Brian Fatula, vice-president of baking enzymes for DSM Food Specialties USA, Inc., South Bend, Ind.

However, if a company wishes to introduce a “clean label” bread product, enzymes typically are the backbone in obtaining the desired results, he said. He added bakers should never forget the use of time, temperature and water adjustments.

“Adjusting fermentation times or temperatures can certainly impact a dough, but it all starts with defining your objective,” Mr. Fatula said. “So if you want to remove an emulsifier such as DATEM, first you would remove this and add a phospholipase enzyme such as Panamore Golden.”

Fermentation also may play a role in replacing chemical preservatives such as calcium propionate, as is the case with a recently launched ingredient from Corbion.

“Verdad Powder F80 is the result of fermenting cane sugar with natural food cultures to produce a mixture of organic acids, peptides and aromas targeted at reducing microbial growth, enhancing freshness and providing fermented favors to bakery applications,” said Jim Robertson, category manager, Corbion.

Verdad Powder F80 is suitable for gluten-free applications, is non-bioengineered and may be labeled as cultured sugar.

Corbion estimates the preservative-free bread market in the United States accounts for roughly 10% of the products in the commercial aisle and generates an estimated $1.9 billion in net sales, Mr. Robertson said.

AB Mauri uses fermented or cultured carbohydrates to act as mold inhibitors in order to extend the fresh eating qualities of baked products, Mr. Parker said.

“Our clean label line of mold inhibitors under the Nabitor name is a grouping of fermented, cultured products that are considered to be ‘label friendly’ to consumers and the industry alike,” he said. “The use of the Nabitor products allows for the label friendly term ‘no artificial preservatives’ to be used when replacing other chemical preservatives.”

G.M.O. questions

Fermentation’s use in non-bioengineered products may lead to questions in some instances. The use of enzymes and fermentation in creating non-bioengineered products depends on the bioengineered status and functionality to be delivered by the replaced ingredient or ingredients, Mr. Parker said.

“Enzymes can certainly be utilized as enzymes by their very nature as proteins are not G.M.O.s, even if bioengineering is utilized in processing,” he said. “The bigger question would relate to organic as this is an area that would restrict many enzymes, yet still is achievable.”

The G.M.O. issue is difficult to address and an emotional topic, Mr. Fatula said.

“Unfortunately, there are no clear definitions of G.M.O., and this makes it a challenge when there are various interpretations of what is and what is not a G.M.O.,” he said. “Also, typically enzymes are considered processing aids and do not require to be labeled, and thus this can impact how people consider the use of enzymes.”

He added, “While enzymes in general are not considered to be G.M.O., sometimes they are produced utilizing biotechnology, and thus the producing organism may have to be considered a G.M.O. We recognized the best way to operate is to be open and transparent, sharing information and allowing our customers to make these decisions as to how they would consider our products.”

Flavor development

Achieving a specific flavor remains a main benefit of fermentation.

“Fermentation is the very essence of flavor development for any type of application, whether it is artisan bread or sliced pre-packed bread,” Ms. Vandepoel said. “In soft, white sliced breads, you will see that often the technique of sponge-and-dough issued to give that typical yeasty, alcoholic flavor profile that fits this type of bread best.”

Last year Puratos opened a Sourdough Library at the Puratos Center for Bread Flavor in Saint-Vith, Belgium. Different sourdoughs are kept there and grown in controlled conditions that ensure the viability of the strains. Scientists at Puratos have worked with universities to identify more than 700 different yeasts in the samples.

The use of sourdough as a natural leavening agent for bread traces back to 3,000 B.C. in ancient Egypt, Ms. Vandepoel said.

“A typical sourdough is a blend of flour and water fermented by the microorganisms, lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast,” she said. “These microorganisms are naturally present in sourdough flour, the air and other raw materials like apple juice and yogurt. These raw materials are sometimes used by bakers to give uniqueness to their sourdough.”

The type of microorganism and flour used to make a sourdough highly influences the flavor note, she said.

Puratos offers a range of natural fermentation flavors under its Sapore brand. Sapore Tosca is based on durum flour and offers a nutty, creamy, cereal type of flavor note, Ms. Vandepoel said. Sapore Panarome is based on the technique of sponge-and-dough.

“This is when water, flour and yeast are fermented, giving a more fermented, alcoholic, yeasty flavor profile to the bread,” she said.

Sapore Traviata uses rye flour and the French tradition of including grapes into sourdough. The technique gives a more acidy yet fruity flavor profile to the bread, Ms. Vandepoel said.

Fermentation may be useful in creating various flavors and bread characteristics, Mr. Fatula said.

“If you look at artisan breads, maybe it is a crispier crust, a more robust crust color or just the appearance of bread externally that can be obtained via fermentation,” he said. “Also, the impact of fermentation on the wheat flour can help in processing of the dough, which ultimately provides these characteristics. Enzymes have been utilized to help in processing of these types of formulations as well, possibly to reduce fermentation time and/or to reduce and remove emulsifiers and ultimately still achieve the desired product quality.”

Corbion produces fermented natural flavors under the PuraQ Arome brand, Mr. Robertson said. PuraQ Arome NA4 may be used to enhance the fermented flavor of bakery and grain-based foods and improve the overall flavor profile of reduced sodium applications.

The benefits of fermentation may be seen in processing, such as how it may impact the dough rheology and even improve the shelf life, to a certain degree, of the product, Mr. Fatula said.

“I think in general, sometimes we are always looking for the magic pill to fix everything, and we forget that we can still evaluate and adjust time, temperature and water,” he said. “These are the three parameters that can have a great impact on the doughs and the overall product quality. However, I do also recognize that sometimes we may not have the luxury of changing the process due to the bakery, but I would just challenge everyone to at least discuss whether these are an option.”

Fermentation may reduce cocoa waste

Recent innovations in fermentation may provide benefits in cocoa and chocolate, ingredients often used in grain-based foods.

Barry Callebaut, Zurich, Switzerland, has developed a method to control and optimize fermentation of cocoa beans. A patented technique involves adding a natural fermentation mixture to cocoa beans, which results in zero-defect beans. Barry Callebaut already has introduced its technique to 9,000 cocoa farmers. Conventional fermentation leaves up to 20% of the beans defective, according to the company.

MycoTechnology, Inc., Aurora, Colo., said it has created a new process using gourmet fungi that transform agricultural products through a fermentation process to improve taste, value and health. The company said it has improved the taste of coffee and chocolate products through a ReishiSmooth process. ReishiSmooth uses the ability of Reishi mushrooms to selectively consume bitter compounds in food.

Nestle partnership includes studying fermentation

Fermentation is one area of interest in a strategic partnership Nestle S.A., Vevey, Switzerland, entered into this year with the Singapore government’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research. The three-year agreement will focus on areas such as nutrition, packaging, data analytics and biotransformation, which involves the use of natural processes such as fermentation to transform raw materials into ingredients with nutritional or functional benefits.

Some Nestle products already are made through a natural fermentation process. Maggi liquid seasoning is based on wheat gluten fermentation. In West Africa, Maggi bouillon cubes are based on soy fermentation.