THE NEW ENZYME BREAD TECH….
Most of us are aware that modern commercial bread had all sorts of additives which are supposed to “improve” the bread….bread “improvers”. The function of the improvers is to strengthen gluten, strengthen dough, improve handling, improve crumb structure, delay staling and so on. The results are the impossibly soft and white stuff which means “bread” to most consumers in the industrialised, largely western European-influenced world. I need not go into the quality of this type of bread, save to say it is clearly deficient in nutrients and fibre, both of which cannot be replaced by the addition of chemical vitamins and “fibre”.
The additives in bread cause increasing anxiety to many, with the ingredients label being more like a chemical formula and taking up a large part of the label. Those who inadvertently glance at the ingredient list are often shocked at the extraterrestrials indwelling, and may well wonder why bread needs all of these things, when the label on a good tasty wholesome sourdough will read Flour, water, salt. We`ve come a long way.
In order to avoid the lists of modifying chemicals on bread labels, and to increase the shelf-life of bread, not to mention creating light high breads from various grains not usually used in bread making, the new technology is using enzymes instead of chemicals. Briefly, enzymes speed up and catalyse reactions, and are an incredibly important and natural part of living processes. They would seem to be innocent additives deserving the title natural, and would appear harmless because of their natural origins. Most will hate reading this, but bakers often spat in their doughs because saliva contains necessary enzymes which speed up the fermentation of flour. Modern tech takes the same enzymes and uses them for the same purpose albeit not from human saliva. Far from it. The new enzymes are usually “functional” enzymes, carefully bred to perform highly specific functions, seems harmless or benign doesn’t it? Which is exactly the spin on these new,”novel” enzymes.
One of the most common and widely used new enzymes is something called maltogenic alpha amylase, which is used to increase shelf life. It prevents the re-crystallizing of starch ..staling..and bread stays soft for days longer than usual…meaning it can be sit on a shelf longer, be sold days later yet still be “fresh”. There are many others being developed, but its useful to focus on this one as its indicative of the processes involved with all of them really. One of the companies involved in this new bread tech describes their new enzyme like this ..“we have cloned and expressed a novel maltogenic alpha amylase from bacillus stearothermophilus on plasmid in bacillus subtilis. Originally the plasmid was very unstable…but was stabilised due to a spontaneous copy number reducing mutation”….…reassured? What their chemists have done is to take, clone, an enzyme generating fraction existing in bacillus stearothermophilus and combined it with a plasmid from another bacteria, then allowed it to mutate until a stable mutation was formed. A plasmid is a piece of an organic molecule which is not involved with its chromosones and can replicate independently. So this is recombinant technology, splitting up the structure of an existant molecule and adding a bit from another one to it to create a novel combination…also known as genetic engineering or molecular biology. Plasmids have all sorts of functions from conferring selective advantages to killing other bacteria and conferring anti-biotic immunity to bacteria. They can rapidly spread through a bacterial population. The chemists don’t know what the new creation will do, and in this case have lucked-on a stable form which they can then experiment with.
The bacillus used for the experiment, stearothermophilus, is an interesting one. It is highly resistant and is usually the one which will cause spoilage in those ultra long-“life” (UHT) products. Being gram-positve, its in the same class as those which produce anthrax, gastroenteritis, botulism, tetanus, diphtheria and meningitis. The bacillus from which the plasmid was taken is also interesting in that while generally thought to be benign, it “could be expected to temporarily inhabit the skin and GI tract of humans” and “ gene sequence transfers can occur between bacteria, and B subtilis has shown the expression of toxins from pertussis, diphtheria and pneumoniccocal bacteria”, also, “b subtilis can produce toxins as enzymes which disrupt mammalian cell membranes and cause allergic reactions in people continually exposed (as in bread production…consumption?) and finally, “there are reliable examples of infections caused by b subtilis, generally in immuno-compromised people, ranging from endocarditis, fatal pneumonia and septicaemia”. The point that gene transfer “can occur” is underlined by the fact that this bacillus is used for this very purpose, being compliant!. In the same manner genetic modification is bullishly foisted on us as being safe, the US EPA found “no inreasonable risks with the use of these strains for enzyme production in fermentation facilities”…what you may ask is “unreasonable risk”?
It’s a case of the scientific community just saying, “trust us…we`re scientists” which is about the most un-scientific rationale one could offer. There are no double blind trials on any of this, which is the heart of the scientific method. This is the new “faith healing” or “faith in technology” mind-set which deeply contravenes all that modern science is supposed to stand for. We unwittingly will be the human trial, but even without a double blind! How does one then prove that allergies aren’t caused by this technology, or how does the “scientific” community prove that your allergies (or gastroenteritis) aren’t caused by one of these novel organisms in your bread? Heat as in the baking process,denatures an enzyme, which simply means it becomes inactive and loses its shape, however the protein molecule is not broken down into amino acids…its still there.
While it is easy to scaremonger about this sort of technology in our food, that certainly isn’t my intention, and it is usually the only thoughts offered back by the “faith-scientists” as accusations…again deeply unscientific. No scientist can honestly assert that the scientific method is being followed in the genetic modification of foods. This sort of organism is being slid sideways into our foods as the innocuous replacement for those nasty sounding chemicals, which may even prove to be innocuous compared to the genies released from GMO vase.
The solution is to join the rapidly growing number of people who choose to make their own bread from ingredients they can trust, or to support those bakers who make good honest trustworthy bread, even if the price is higher….what price your wellbeing?