The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Question on Preservatives and Conditioners

uberathlete's picture

Question on Preservatives and Conditioners

Hi everyone. My brother and I are exploring the possibility of selling packaged bread at supermarkets but we're not sure if it would be prudent to make use of some sort of bread preservative to increase shelf life and maintain softness. The bread we will produce will be rather sweet (about 17 - 19% sugar), one with no eggs and another with quite a bit of egg yolks (about 17%). I would like to ask for some advice / ideas on this matter. I've read about calcium propionate as being a common bread preservative. Does anyone have experience using this and what are your thoughts on its effectiveness and effect on the bread's overall taste and texture? Are there other better alternatives? Also, has anyone used dough conditioners for sweet breads and breads with plenty of fat, and if so could you recommend something that might be good to increase volume and spring, and maintain softness? I am quite lost on this topic so any suggestions / advice / ideas etc. would be much appreciated. Thanks!

dghdctr's picture

And you can add -- oddly enough -- raisin powder.  A scientist at the American Institute of Baking told me that raisins are a natural source of calcium propionate, which wards off mold growth.  Must be true, since I can't think of any other reason to make raisins into powder.  Still -- that doesn't address staling, and you can only delay the staling process with natural ingredients a few days at most.

I won't get into a philosophical argument about the use of non-natural conditioners or preservatives in bread (plenty of members here may do that, anyway).  Still, I'd point out that if you want to differentiate your product -- strictly from a business standpoint -- then using only all-natural ingredients is one way to do that.

I'm skeptical that you can compete toe-to-toe with any factory-made bread in the 7-day shelf life category.  The big guys can buy all their ingredients more cheaply than you can, and their distribution and labor costs are lower than yours (assuming you put a dollar value on your own labor).  Many small bakeries acknowledge that they can't compete on price with large bakeries, so they consciously try to service a more specialized customer who wants something the big guys don't do.

As far as I know, there is nothing natural out there that will rival the ability of manufactured chemicals to push bread dough in this or that direction.  So you can't expect 5 or 7 days good shelf life from a natural bread product.  Even a great sourdough bread or a butter-laden brioche will be pretty stale after 2 or 3 days.  Very edible maybe -- but stale nonetheless.

You know, the AIB has very affordable on-line courses for people who want to learn more about the technical side of baking.  You don't have to be pursuing a degree or certification.  Check'em out.

--Dan DiMuzio

SteveB's picture

Must be true, since I can't think of any other reason to make raisins into powder.

Because grapes clog up the grinder?  :-)



dghdctr's picture


I stand corrected.

Well . . . actually, in the interests of full disclosure, I'm sitting.


uberathlete's picture

Thanks for the reply Dan. Pardon my ignorance, but what does AIB stand for?

dghdctr's picture

When it comes to the chemistry and physics of baking, these guys rule.  For insights on particular methods used by artisanal bakers, I recommend SFBI and King Arthur's Baking Center.

--Dan DiMuzio

FuriousYellow's picture

I work in a large industrial bakery in Canada, and we use a wide array of preservativies and conditioners in our products. That is pretty much the reason why I abandoned eating the products we make at work and started baking my own bread at home which eventually turned into a hobby. Pretty much all of our products contain Sodium Steryol -2- Lactylate (SS2L) which is a conditioner that softens the dough, makes it easier to work with and also keeps breads softer for longer after packaging. For our cheaper generic breads we use calcium propionate as our main preservative (anti-mold agent) and our premium products are starting to widely use sorbic acid (not to be confused with ascorbic acid) which is deemed to be more natural and safe, but expensive. We also use a few emulsifiers, which make the dough easier to work with in a fast pace setting, namely soy lecithin. Personally, I feel you will be more successul if you stuck to natural ingredients, and market your bread that way, even if the shelf life is a few days less. Customers are starting to realise that bread that lasts over 2 weeks is not healthy, and if it can kill mold spores for that long, what is it doing to our health when we ingest it regularely?

uberathlete's picture

Thanks for the replies. The thought of possibly using some sort of preservative primarily to inhibit mold growth comes from concern of spoilage and wastage. But I certainly understand your concerns over unnatural ingredients. The bread we will produce will be packaged in a heat sealed food safe film bag. What do you folks think is a good target for number of days of freshness? Ideally from the retailers perspective. If I was a supermarket or retailer of a bread product, what would be the minimum number of days I would require for a packaged bread product to be "fresh". As much as we'd all like our breads to be preservative free, that desire changes in the eyes of a retailer who will want to as much as possible avoid too much spoilage. I'm looking into using potato flour to help in retention of moisture. Are there other natural ingredients that will help? Maybe enzymes and/or emulsifiers? Man, this issue is tough.

ananda's picture


Could I suggest you find a more sympathetic retalier to work with?

Your intended shelf life for the product described seems wholly unrealistic to me.   It will do no justice to your end-product at all.

I don't understand why you want to join in this market.   There's no money in it as you will be unable to compete with the huge corporations that make this rubbish, and you can rest-assured that the large multiple retailers will screw evry last penny out of you.   Recipe for commercial suicide, surely.

I'm with Dan; learn how to make and sell proper bread; a very fine strategy, and I wish you well should you venture down this path.



alphabaker's picture

Raisin concentrate is of course the best "natural preservative".  Bakers don't use the powder often because it is slightly harder to work with and not as good tasting as the actual concentrate.  I have heard of people trying to blend their own raisins but the results aren't that great. 

I just buy mine from in 32 oz containers and it lasts for about a month to a month and a half.  I bake 3 to 5 wheat or dark loaves per week.  I have actually purchased a 5 gallon pail of it and it lasted over a year and I used it all.  It seems to never go bad.

As far as shelf life,  I can leave my bread in the film bags you spoke of on a counter for a long time - up to two weeks in many cases and there are no signs of mold.  This makes me want to experiment with a loaf and see just how long it takes for mold to set in if you use raisin concentrate.  I would guess three weeks if at all.

Hope this helps.


Chuck's picture

Assuming a consumer view (not a grocer's view) is of some use to you, here's my two cents:

I expect bread to show up on the grocery store shelves the same day it's baked, to last in the store at least two days (the second as "day old"), and to last at home at least two (or preferably three) days more. (This generally means baking at o'dark-thrity, and delivering when the grocery store opens.)

From what I can see, grocers have particular expectations of bakers, and will be very upset if you don't do business according to both explicit and implicit agreements. (You may though have to pull the details out of them, or they will remain "obvious" but implicit/unspoken.) My surmise is grocers expect you to deliver around their opening time, and they expect your delivery service to remove dated merchandise from their shelves (perhaps moving it to a "day old" shelf, or taking it away on your truck, or throwing it in their garbage can).  My suggestion is to be extremely persistent at getting the grocer to say explicitly exactly what he expects.

I once had an experience with bread that was purposely baked quite moist to satisfy consumer taste, yet had no preservatives whatsoever. It tasted wonderful  ...but only three days after baking it turned all slimy, and four days after baking both white and green growths were visible. By slime time it was at home rather than on the grocery store shelf so the grocer wasn't unhappy, but it wasn't okay with me to have to immediately eat whole loaves the same day I got home from the store.

I agree with the poster who remarked that going for broke on preservatives could considerably crimp your marketing possibilities: entering you into direct competition with the giants, and eliminating what could be your chief advertising and sales advantage. I'd recommend doing just a little bit to extend loaf life just 2-3 days, but not more. (If it doesn't eventually spoil at home, consumers may wonder why they're paying a little extra for the same old preservatives.)

In my experience, just a bit of malted barley (a plain old simple organic dough conditioner) -only about 1 gram per loaf- will be enough to minimize the "drying out" problem. Other consumers like me will appreciate not having to be a fanatic about exactly how and how long loaves can be stored.

good luck!