The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Ascorbic acid

frogg's picture

Ascorbic acid


I'd like to bake loaves with a higher wholemeal content ( 60 wholemeal:40 white or 70 wholemeal: 30 white) and am wondering if the addition of ascorbic acid will help to make them lighter. Does anyone routinely use ascorbic acid in wholemeal/spelt  bread making, and if so, what is your purpose in using it. Does anyone deliberately avoid it, and if so why?  Also, does anyone know where in London (UK)  I could buy it? If I were to use straigh vit C pills, how much would I add say per 3 cups of flour? Thanks.

holds99's picture


I pulled this off breadbaking911 website.  When I lived in France boulangers (bread bakers) were allowed to use ascorbic acid, in small amounts, in their bread baking, mostly baguettes, batards, etc.

Creates an acidic environment for the yeast which helps it work better. It also acts as a preservative & deters mold and bacterial growth. With just a touch of ascorbic acid, your Artisan breads, the yeast will work longer and faster. French bakers add it to their French bread, baguette or boule recipe.

If you can't find pure ascorbic acid crystals you can use Fruit Fresh (canning isle) or a crushed/powdered vitamin C tablet, but measure accordingly.  The footnote says 1/8 teaspoon per recipe.  I have used it, albeit not lately, and used only a large pinch for per 2 lb of dough.

1/8 tsp. per recipe
Howard - St. Augustine, FL
dougal's picture

1/ Vitamin C (aka Ascorbic acid, or its salts such as Sodium Ascorbate) is readily available.

In London!

Tablets have (hopefully) accurate amounts - typically 500mg (1/2 a gram) per tablet.

Unless you have unusually accurate scales, measuring 1/4 gram or thereabouts for a loaf is much more difficult than cutting a tablet in half.

But if you are prepared to measure out small fractions of a gram, then you can buy a smallish (170 gram) jar of pure Vitamin C powder from Holland & Barrett (the High Street "health food" shop).

£6.49 for 170g currently... that's enough for 700 loaves or so... so the cost is below 1p per loaf.


2/ I've seen it mentioned that 25ppm or so is sometimes pre-added to white flour as an 'improver'. (ppm is milligrams (1/1000g) per kilo). It is even permitted as an improver in "Organic" flour.

Dan Lepard proposes using 250mg to 450g of wholemeal flour. So that's almost 20x as much as routine addition to white flour.

It seems he started by adding a splash of orange juice (when he couldn't get decent flour abroad) ...

... so orange flavour fizzy tablets are not to be automatically ruled out! (You can dissolve the tablet in the water, long before you add the water to the dough, or grind it up really fine.)


3/ Vitamin C (and its family of ascorbates and erythrobates) are anti-oxidants (ie reducing agents).

That is why they are usually added to foodstuffs.

But their action on dough is much more than that.

And massively more than the addition of a minute quantity of acid.

Dan mentioned Vitamin C in his Wholemeal Loaf recipe in the last November's Guardian Guide to Baking.,,2213370,00.html

He says that Vit C is an antagonist for Glutathione, which is described by others including Dr Emily Buehler as being much more prevalent in wholemeal than white flour.

My understanding is that Glutathione (notably also found in 'Active Dry' yeast, resulting from dead yeast cells) acts to make the gluten more 'floppy' - less strong but more extensible. In making the flour 'weaker', it reduces the rise height that the dough can support - making for a denser loaf.

You might also be interested in this (PDF) academic paper from 1995 (one of whose authors is the celebrated cereal chemist RC Hoseney) 

EDIT : The paper quantifies and "discusses" (ie proposes explanations for) the effect of Vitamin C, Bromate and Glutathione on dough strength, elasticity and extensibility ("rheology") -- also mentioning (and offering an explanation for) ascorbic acid's greater effectiveness than its mirror-image-twin ("optical isomer") erythrobic acid. For any baker of a scientific mind, its very well worth a look.


4/ I have a cheap 0.01g digital scale (less than £20 a couple of years back, inc calibration weight and delivery). It was bought originally for weighing out Nitrate and Nitrite for ham and bacon curing. And Vitamin C is useful in bacon curing too. So I bought a jar at H & B.

Used at the sort of strength Dan Lepard proposes, I think it does give a lighter (better-risen) wholemeal loaf. 

Childebert's picture

I've seen it mentioned that 25ppm or so is sometimes pre-added to white flour as an 'improver'. (ppm is milligrams (1/1000g) per kilo).

between 20 ppm (white or cake flour) and 50-60 ppm (whole wheat flour)


PaddyL's picture

One tsp. of vinegar for up to 10 cups of flour really helps the bread rise.  You could add a little more and it won't affect the taste at all.

Paddyscake's picture

Check out Dolf's blog..he uses ascorbic acid in his formula.  Good stuff !

staff of life's picture
staff of life

In the new SFBI book, Suas mentions that using ascorbic acid for a green flour (one that hasn't been aged) helps immediately increase dough strength.  I enjoy using freshly ground whole grains; I've thought of using ascorbic acid to help make better-risen loaves, just never experimented.  So I'm grateful for all this info, too!


frogg's picture

Fantastic information....very helpful, thank you so much.

michele s's picture
michele s

Hi all. Am new to this forum - just started making sourdough a few months ago and have only baked about 7 loaves. The only flour I've used, including for making my starter, has been organic  stoneground wholewheat, with one exception where I used about 20% Amaranth flour in the dough flour.

I'd like to try using ascorbic acid to see what it does to my wholewheat loaves. When should it be added - at the batter (sponge) stage or at the dough stage?




groovynena's picture

Hi all. I'm very new to this forum - just started making gluten free, organic whole wheat breads and cakes  a few months ago and have only baked about 4 loaves. I've used quinoa, tapioca, brown rice, amaranth among other gluten free flours  including for making my starter. I have got OK results but not exactly what I expected.

I also would like to use some kind of preservative to make it better and extend the shelf live of my baking.

Can anyone help me with that please?

I'd like to try using ascorbic acid to see what it does to my wholewheat loaves. When should it be added - at the batter (sponge) stage or at the dough stage?

Doc.Dough's picture

This small amount is all that is needed to act as a slow oxidizer and offset (recover from) the effects of glutathione or L-cysteine additions that enhance dough extensability when you are trying to knead a dough containing very hard flour.  It does not "acidify" the dough.


nicodvb's picture

if I used too much ascorbic acid? Would I have the same effect of added glutathione or L-cysteine due to the "missed" conversion to dehydroascorbic acid?

What other compound can be used to acidify the dough without leading it to break? I was adviced not to use citric acid.

Doc.Dough's picture

Ascorbic acid is a slow oxydizing agent; the L-cysteine is a rapidly acting reducing agent (it ties up the sticky side chains of the gluten so that they don't reattach too quickly when stretched).  You won't taste it because it will decompose during the bake. 

I can't predict what you might consider "too much" but you can certainly run a simple experiment:

Dissolve 1000 mg of ascorbic acid in water and include it in your liquids when you make a batch of dough that contains 1 Kg of flour.

Report back with the results!

PS - if you want glutathione to see the effect, just kill off some growing yeast in the microwave and add it to your dough, but watch out - it is easy to get too much and quickly make flour soup.  The L-cysteine liberated from the glutathione is what is doing the job.

Red5's picture

A bakery I was at for a couple years used Ascorbic Acid in every formula.  I forgot to put it in a batch of dough one day and there was no difference in the dough or the resulting loaf the next day. After a few more experiments, I just stopped adding it to every formula entirely. The other bakers did, but I didn't.  It never made a difference one way or the other if it was added or not, if you lined up the loaves that did or didn't have it, you wouldn't be able to pick out which was which.  It's best served in industrial/high volume applications where more controls over time are needed, and on the cheaper flours than non-artisan type places would use.  I would doubt it making any difference on the home baker level. 


Doc.Dough's picture

My reading of the literature suggests that a bakery can prepare more dough in the same amount of time in smaller (less expensive) mixers if they can turn up the speed without damaging the dough.  This is enabled by the addition of L-cysteine or another rapid reducing agent combined with ascorbic acid to reoxidize the di-sulfide bonds on the gluten side chains. For any less aggressive mixing regimen I see no justification for using either.

FlourChild's picture

When I make pizza, I want somewhat slack, highly extensible gluten to make shaping easier and to contribute to a more open crumb in the cornichione.  According to SAF, yeast will release glutathione at cool temps, and mixing with cool or ice water or retarding/freezing the dough will do the trick.  I like to mix with ice water, though many recipes call for an overnight in the fridge and/or active dry yeast to achieve the same goal.

I wonder if ascorbic acid is necessary with instant yeast (less dead yeast to give off glutathione) or if not retarding dough?  I'll be interested to hear if it makes a difference with whole grain.

Doc.Dough's picture

The ascorbic acid is justified by its ability to undo the damage caused by the L-cysteine that is part of the glutathione.  If anything you would need less ascorbic acid with instant yeast if it truly does yield less glutathione.  In general retarding dough simply slows down the biological processes or adjusts the relative rates of both the biology and the chemistry.

Your conjecture about whole grain dough is an interesting one. Is it possible that increasing the extensibility of a whole grain dough might reduce the tearing that is made easier by bran cutting the gluten strands?

Try it and report back!

Janetcook's picture

When I first started baking bread again I purchased gluten and dough conditioners thinking I needed them to get soft breads using 100% whole wheat flour.  I never opened the dough conditioner container - if fact I returned it and got my $ back and I did use the gluten for awhile but then I discovered Peter Reinhart's book Whole Grain Baking and I get soft breads every time now without adding anything.  His method employs using 2 preferments so the grains get a longer 'wet time' and when the 2 doughs are joined together in the final mix they create a strong dough that holds all the CO2 in place and a wonderfully soft and nutritious loaf is the end result :-) ( The long soaking has other flavor enhansing effects too and I won't go into detail here because he explains it much better than I do :-) 

Happy Baking,