The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

What Is This 'Bread Improver' - Good? Bad?

abrogard's picture

What Is This 'Bread Improver' - Good? Bad?

I am a new baker.

I've been enjoying baking plain french bread.

But I find the following day the crumb is too dense for my liking.

So I looked around the web and saw people saying 'add gluten'.

So I went to my local baker/brewer shop and asked for gluten.

He first wanted to sell me a jar of liquid which I noticed was labelled 'glucose' and when I pointed that out to him he said that's the same as 'gluten', which I find a bit  hard to believe.

So then I told him how I'd come to be looking for gluten, dense crumb, internet and all and he turned around and said 'all you need is this' - and gave me some 'bread improver'.

Well sure enough, it seems to work. Makes a lovely piece of bread.  But it's not gluten and I wonder what it is and how healthy it is.

The label says:  Sugar, wheaten flour, emulsifier 481, mineral salt 170, soy flour, flour treatment agents 510, 300, enzyme (amylase)


 All of this stuff is not 'gluten' is it?

What is it? Is it good?

I wonder why a shop devoted to baking and brewing ('henry's brew and bake')  didn't stock gluten?


 ab  :)




Janknitz's picture

but you can probably find gluten on your grocery store or health food store (i.e. Whole Foods) shelf. It's called "Vital Wheat Gluten" and it costs a few dollars for a small box--look for it on the baking aisle near the flour.

KA sells a "bread improver" and when you look at what it is it's simplyvital wheat gluten and ascorbic acid.

bassopotamus's picture

Glucose is a sugar


Glueten is a wheat protein. Whatever you got, it doesn't sound like it has gluten in it.


I've used vital wheat gluten in the past, but unless the only place I've really thought it helped was in whole wheat breads, which don't have much in the way of gluten in the first place.

dghdctr's picture

This shop owner either doesn't know anything about the artisanal perspective in bread baking, or he consciously tried to snooker you.  Or both.

I'd strongly recommend that you not take any more baking advice from them.  Get a good book like Hamelman's Bread and read the first 65 pages or so to get a good, brief background on basic baking knowledge.  That will cover ingredient selection, dough mixing and gluten development, fermentation, shaping, proofing and baking.

At that point, you'll be much better able to discern who knows what they're talking about and who doesn't.  Jeffrey also has a nice appendix that discusses flour and dough additives, what their effects are, and which ones are to be avoided.

I'll let you research that on your own -- it's a great learning experience.  It's fair to say that any ingredient identified only with a number -- and no actual alphabetical name -- is probably never meant for you or me to know about.  Not very confidence inspiring, is it?

--Dan DiMuzio

SteveB's picture

If I remember correctly, soy flour, one of the ingredients in your 'bread improver', contains lipoxygenase, an enzyme which catalyzes the oxidization of unsaturated fatty acids.  Lipoxygenase may strengthen the dough (depending upon your dough strength, this may be considered an 'improvement') but will also bleach the crumb and destroy various flavor components.  I'd steer clear of it (and the brew and bake shop that recommended it!).




mrfrost's picture

King Arthur Dough Additives:

Easy-Roll Dough Improver - 12 oz.
Item # 1574

Ingredients: dough improver (extra grade sweet cream dairy whey, highly refined soy flour, sweet cream buttermilk, hi-heat non-fat dry milk), leavening (monocalcium phosphate, baking soda, cornstarch), natural sour flavor [corn starch, naturally fermented lactic acid, vinegar, sodium silico-aluminate (processing aid), corn flour, citric acid, natural flavors], sour cream powder (sour cream, cultured nonfat milk, citric acid), inactive yeast, diastatic malt powder.

Whole Grain Bread Improver, 12 oz
Item # 1576

Ingredients: vital wheat gluten, low-fat soy flour, inactive yeast, ascorbic acid.

Rye Bread Improver - 16 oz.
Item # 3207

Ingredients: potato flour, vital wheat gluten, deli rye flavor [rye flour, acetic acid, natural flavors, sodium silicoaluminate (processing aid), naturally fermented lactic acid], rye sour [rye flour, corn flour, naturally fermented lactic acid, cornstarch, acetic acid, citric acid, mono-calcium phosphate, salt, yeast, sodium silicoaluminate (processing aid)], diastatic malt powder (malted barley flour, wheat flour, dextrose).

dghdctr's picture

I'm really not trying to be a smart-aleck here, but was there any point to be made here, or perhaps a question associated with this catalogue excerpt?


lindyc's picture

I don't think french bread is meant to be eaten the next day!

Baguettes don't have any fats added to them generally (no milk, oil etc) and since fats are what preserve bread they would go stale very quickly and this may be why you feel they are dense the next day. You might also just have too low a hydration level.

I think the absence of any fats is also what gives french sticks their characteristic chewyness.

I read somewhere that in France there is a law that says you are only allowed to put four ingredients into a baguette - flour, salt, yeast and water. I'm not sure if this is true but it has stuck with me because I just love the idea that the french would pass a law about what goes into their bread!!

Any french law experts out there - i'd be fascinated to find out



sojourner's picture

In Britain at the beginning of the industrial revolution, we had people who went round deliberately smashing up machines because things had never been done that way before. Now, we think they were misguided even if we sympathise with their motives. But food, especially bread, is a different matter. Bread has been made with flour, salt, water and natural yeasts for thousands of years. Intolerances developed after bread-making became an industrial process. My gut reaction tells me there must be a link but, because I'm not a scientist, I can't prove it. But experience with two indirect members of my extended family has shown me that when they eat bread I've made either with natural yeasts (aka sourdough) or using a prefermented dough, they don't get a bad stomach. It may be a coincidence but why would that be when these are blind tests?

You should do what you think is right; for myself, I'd rather stay clear of additives.

Good luck either way!



abrogard's picture



Thanks for the responses, all.

I did a bit of googling around and found out some more.

My bread shop man certainly seems to be either having a go at me or just dreadfully ignorant.


There's no gluten in what he's sold me.

What there is in it doesn't seem to be all that bad with the possible exception of the amylase.

First: here's the list of the numbered items, what they really are and some bits of information I found for them:

510 is ammonium chloride
 One of the ingredients sometimes found in bread improvers is ammonium chloride. This decreases the acidity of urine and should be avoided by people with liver or kidney problems.

It is a 'yeast food for flour" :

300 is  ascorbic acid (vit C)

481 sodium stearoyl (or oleyl) lactylate
an emulsifier

170 calcium carbonate
calcium fortification


So they don't seem so bad. The cryptic 'numbered' items.  About the worst thing I found was the enzyme amylase.

Here's part of a Wikipedia entry for it:

 Amylase enzymes are used extensively in bread making to break down complex sugars such as starch (found in flour) into simple sugars. Yeast then feeds on these simple sugars and converts it into the waste products of alcohol and CO2. This imparts flavour and causes the bread to rise. While Amylase enzymes are found naturally in yeast cells, it takes time for the yeast to produce enough of these enzymes to break down significant quantities of starch in the bread. This is the reason for long fermented doughs such as sour dough. Modern bread making techniques have included amylase enzymes (often in the form of malted barley) into bread improver thereby making the bread making process faster and more practical for commercial use.[2]

When used as a food additive Amylase has E number E1100, and may be derived from pig pancreas or mould mushroom.

Bacilliary amylase is also used in detergents to dissolve starches from fabrics.

Workers in factories that work with amylase for any of the above uses are at increased risk of occupational asthma. 5-9% of bakers have a positive skin test, and a fourth to a third of bakers with breathing problems are hypersensitive to amylase. [3]

An inhibitor of alpha-amylase called phaseolamin has been tested as a potential diet aid. [4]

Blood serum amylase may be measured for purposes of medical diagnosis. A normal concentration is in the range 21-101 U/L. A higher than normal concentration may reflect one of several medical conditions, including acute inflammation of the pancreas, macroamylasemia, perforated peptic ulcer, and mumps. Amylase may be measured in other body fluids, including urine and peritoneal fluid.


And I've read worse things elsewhere.  Enough to make me think I don't want the stuff in my bread.

here's a good one with a table of additives:

Good rave on bread and flour: by elmer cranton


It looks like what I need to do it throw away all 'bread improvers',  and look for unbleached whole grain stone ground flour.  Or maybe even grind my own. That's be a trip. I wonder how expensive it'd be to get a tiny mill for that job?  Would a coffee mill be up to the job?

And as for where I started: too dense a crumb for my liking, I think perhaps I should work on my technique on the one hand, I've already learned just the way you handle your dough can make a difference in the loaf you get, and perhaps get some gluten, like the man first said, on the other.

And my local breadshop?  Obviously a charlatan of some sort.

I leave this thread for the benefit of anyone else perhaps in the same situation as myself.



ab  :)


PeteInAz's picture

calcium carbonate is ground up sea shells.

amylase is good for breaking down starches into simple sugars that the yeast can feed on. I belive that baking denatures it and your digestive tract will, most likely, destroy it.

The folks above who got the breathing problems probably inhales signifigant amounts. If you start inhaling a lot of powder, you too will develop breathing problems.

The blood serum amylase above was from the peoples own bodies, not from bread.


I may be wrong, but I think there is already amylase in wheat flour.

Virgoan's picture

Gluten, I believe, is a bi-product of bread-dough regardless; It's in the flour itself I think,


tlandrum's picture

OK, I was doing some research on this stuff as well… so I thought I would share.


First, I would like to confirm that the amylase is from the persons body. Amylase is made in the pancreas, and saliva. If you did that experiment in school where you hold a cracker in your mouth, and it starts breaking down... it is because of the amylase in your saliva. It is also used by some primitive tribes to increase the alcohol content of ferment drinks... they chew up the starch and spit it out... the amylase in the saliva breaks down the starches into some the yeast can act on converting it into alcohol (see the move "Medicine Man" for an example of this). 

This is how these "improvers" work... they break down the starches in the bread so the yeast will be able to better act on them. Diastatic malt does the same thing the same way, and I bet that is were the amylase comes from. 



That is what I know (medical school)

Here is what I am guessing at (years of messing up my wife’s kitchen)


whey --- adds sweetness, and something for the yeast to eat

highly refined soy flour
 --- a finer flour, will add a silkiness to the dough

non-fat dry milk

 --- acts as an anti-gluten formation agent… much the same as oil, eggs, etc

monocalcium phosphate & baking soda --- (basically baking powder) chemical leavening agent when they combine they produce CO2.

cornstarch --- can act as the anti-gluten, and also as food for yeast

lactic acid, vinegar, citric acid, sour cream,
 --- actification of the dough… this will help improve the stretchiness of the dough

sodium silico-aluminate --- anticaking agent

corn flour --- would act as a anti-gluten formation agent I guess… really don’t know

inactive yeast
 --- food to help the yeast grow, may also add enzymes to help break down the starches

diastatic malt powder --- while this is the last thing on the list, it could be the most important. If you give your dough a long enough rise it will add significant changes to the dough. It will break down the starches into maltose mostly. This will help feed the yeast, help with the formation of structure of the dough.