Ascorbic acid

JohnD's picture

 ASCORBIC ACID….why use it?


Probably the first thing to clear up is that everybody is free to use non injurious additives in their bread. This is done by all the major bread making companies (bakeries) and is the chemicalised factory bread of commerce. In this piece, Im attempting to examine the use of ascorbic acid in craft/artisan bread-making, and these are my opinions, which aren’t designed to convert anybody, but simply open the question for discussion. There are obvious correspondences with the use of chemicals in food per se.

There is no “dogma” of conformity associated with the questioning of the use of ascorbic acid in bread-making. It is more in the realms of truth of information, because some don’t publically admit that they use it, and a questioning of its use is simply for valid reasons in the same way one can and needs to question the use of any chemical additives to food. It is stated that to experiment with it is harmless, and one must agree, but this is different to using it as a matter of practice in breadmaking, especially that which claims some lineage or quality which distinguishes it from ordinary factory bread.

It is curious the amount of home or craft bakers who want to try ascorbic acid in their bread because it supposedly makes the bread “better”.

Even more curious is the amount of craft bakers who maintain some claim to “authenticity”/ “tradition” and who use organic flours, but regularly add ascorbic acid to their bread.

Ascorbic acid is NOT vitamin C , which is a complex of bioflavonoids, including ascorbic acid. Ascorbic is an isolate of vitamin C . Vitamin C does not work in the same way in a bread dough as does ascorbic acid, which has its own function. Therefore there can be no claim to ascorbic acid being “natural”, eventhough the latter term is devalued by modern marketing, it has an inherent meaning which clearly excludes chemical refining. The ascorbic acid generally used is not even isolated from naturally occurring vitamin C. It is an analogue which is manufactured by chemical means usually from glucose which is chemically isolated from white refined sugar. It would seem reasonable that this sort of provenance would preclude its use in any bread which claims some lineage or association with tradition or which claims status as healthful/wholesome.

Usually, labelling a bread as organic/traditional/authentic, or giving it a traditional title could be construed to mean that the bread is made according to some form of lineage, which could presumably include ingredients and method….such as sourdough. That ascorbic acid is a modern chemical isolate, would seem to preclude its use in any breads which claim some form of lineage or historical quality.

A “whats the problem” approach by a user is actually a type of ignorance, as this sort of baker clearly doesn’t care about their product enough to understand the process or the nature of the addirtive they claim there is too much “fuss” about. This sort of baker would clearly use any means and any method to sell their product and are outside of the scope of this article, which they would probably not be lucid enough to consider anyway. Here, im more referring to those bakers who have some craft and claim some lineage for their bread, but appear to have an ambivalence about the use of additives. Therefore Im attempting to put the use of ascorbic acid in some sort of perspective or context so that its use is more clearly examined…which surely cant be a bad thing?

Unquestionable is that Ascorbic acid is a chemical additive which it is claimed “improves” the bread or makes “better” bread. What do we mean by “improve” as this term has been subsumed by the bread industry as a synonym for “additive”. How does it make the bread “better”…this is a value laden term, which has to be assessed by technical and organoleptic criteria. As the recommended quantity to use is really tiny, it is easy for the baker to use too much, which is easy to taste, especially in a sourdough or for that matter any bread which should taste of the traditional criteria, but too much ascorbic leaves a noticeable taint.

That it is “better” in some way is perhaps a misnomer, validly replaced by “convenient”- for the baker who then doesn’t really have to engage with the process, but can rely on the chemical to do it for them….which is the antithesis of the idea of craft (artisan/non-factory) baking.

Also claimed is that “it completely disappears” in the process and leaves no residue. In this case it is the only substance in the history of chemistry which does so…even the effect on the dough as technically observed is a legacy whether detectable or not…and  certainly the taint left when too much is used proves that it does not disappear magically, but has left a discernable residue for those who can taste.

As the important ingredient in the Chorleywood bread making process which was developed to make wonder bread, it is seemingly incongruous to use it in a “craft” bread or a bread which has a claim to some lineage or other quality…..using it brings such bread back into line with the chemicalising of food/bread characteristic of the chemical modernity of the 1950`s, now in disrepute as so many additives have been withdrawn as new knowledge reveals them to be injurious in some way for example, potassium bromate.

It would seem reasonable to assume that the aim of craft bakers is to make additive free bread, which was certainly the initial impetus to break away from the factory bakeries and make food which had a new quality, untainted by additives. It would appear ignorant not to realise this, and a “no-brainer” to put additives in bread which claims to be different from chemicalised bread….no matter what claims are made to the contrary, bread which contains ascorbic acid is “chemicalised”.

With regard to tradition or authenticity, that the French legal definition of for example a “baguette de tradition Francaise”, excludes the use of ascorbic acid, would appear to indicate its use is not within the sphere of “traditional” or “authentic”. Some bakers will shrug off concerns about the use of AA in breadmaking by saying that French bread makers use it…as if this was a claim to some form of authenticity.

The news is that French bread is as awful as anybodys bread, and for example the French are the biggest consumers of McDonalds stuff outside the USA, so the claim or perceived superiority of “French bread” is spurious, eventhough the French have a lineage of good bread and concern for good bread, and that authentic bread made in the traditional way is available there…well it is also in the USA, Australia, the UK and other modern economies…the “new” good bread is a world-wide phenomenon and was initiated outside of France, notably in the USA and Australia.

It can be claimed that ascorbic acid affects the sourdough process, so that it is not the same process (or bread) as that used by a baker who does not use ascorbic acid. This is clearly evident…it does change the sourdough process, giving a discernable effect…otherwise it wouldnt be used. Sourdough with ascorbic is not actually sourdough. Chemically, the gluten/gliadin hydrolysing action of the organic acids and enzymes in a sourdough is changed. They no longer break down the gluten/gliadin matrix in the same way, perhaps AA de-activates proteolytic enzymes which would appear reasonable, as their function is to breakdown protein which after all form the structural matrix. This could be crucial for those who eat sourdough because they have a sensitivity to gluten/gliadin., and is proven because this is the noticeable effect of using ascorbic acid…the bread structure (gluten/gliadin matrix) is higher and lighter, in fact barely altered by the fermentation as it should be in an authentic sourdough. In short, bakers use it to stabilise the dough so that it holds on longer and gives greater volume, both of which can be achieved by good craft and the intelligent scheduling of doughs, and with the time–based quantification of the amount of leaven used.

It would actually be more wholesome to add yeast to a sourdough to achieve greater gassing power than to use ascorbic acid, which demonstrates that its use in sourdough is a kind of subterfuge really.

Next question is the desireability of adding chemicals to an age-old process which has been revived to relieve us from the assault of chemicalised food. Seems a misunderstanding of the place of sourdough bread in the scheme of things… have in fact lost the plot….which is a kind of ignorance.

This is actually about the greater question of the use of chemicals in food. It is not congruous with the notion of good wholesome food, which often breads containing ascorbic are claimed to be, and which is definitely claimed for sourdough.

Just because ascorbic has no proven ill-effect, it doesn’t make one immediately overtly sick-doesn’t mean much as we now know from the bitter experience of chemicals which were previously used in food…or medicine or the environment for that matter. There is a long list of chemicals which have been previously used in bread, but which are now banned….from the erucic acid containing oils with which tins used to be greased , now known to be carcinogenic, to for example potassium bromate, which is useful to examine.

Bromate was used for decades in bread until its harmful effects were discovered….that it causes kidney damage. Bromate was used because it yields dependable results as it makes stronger and more elastic dough. Alarmingly, ascorbic acid is the chemical chosen in factory processes to replace it, as it performs the same function in bread making, and is itself under suspicion from some authorities…because blatantly obviously, if it has the same effect on dough as bromate, it may well have a similar sort of as yet undetected toxicity?  Interesting is that Britain`s Committee On Toxicology has Ascorbic acid under scrutiny. In any case it is obviously a very powerful substance the use of which should be questioned, and this questioning is not in the manner of an “anti” stand, but as ive said is simply prudent as we are talking about food here, and I re-iterate, food/bread which is often touted as superior to factory bread in some way.

The lyricism and beauty of the baker-as-artisan or craftsman/woman is lost in the use of chemical additives. If there is any art in baking bread, especially sourdough, it is lost by the use of additives to do the job for you. Instead of using craft to achieve good bread, one uses a chemical crutch…almost like an addiction.


morpeth sourdough's picture
morpeth sourdough 2011 September 2

I have logged on again, some days later, to find this argument continuing. If I had the time, I could talk about the science of sourdough, but sadly I don't have that much time. Having years of industrial microbiology/chemistry experience and working for one of the major bread companies has given me an insight into just how modern food technology has stripped us of the diversity we once had in food production. Look how many artisans have gone back to making regional products using the old techniques, proven in time. Having a Master of Applied Science has also given me the skills to be analytical rather than emotional when assessing foods. John I agree, I can walk down the supermarket bread aisle and smell individual additives....years of being on taste panels at both CSIRO and industry.

I go so far as to say that I don't agree with adding commercially produced microorganisms to a sourdough culture! Yes, I am a purist. All the biological entities needed to produce sourdough are inherent in flour. They do not come "from the air" as I have read in some articles. Species of lactobacillus and wild yeasts are different around the world and produce different metabolites, depending on their genetic make-up. Evidenced by this is Lactobacillus sanfransensis, a regional lactobacillus species found in parts of California. This species produces a combination of lactic and acetic acids which gives rise to a more acidic-tasting sourdough. We do not add any commercial cultures at Morpeth Sourdough and never have. We use locally milled flours, containing microorganisms that naturally grow on the surface of these wheat grains. This is the way we get "regional" Sourdough, a unique flavour profile, where our Sourdough will taste different to that produced in VIC or QLD or San Francisco!! This is the beauty of the product. It has the natural variation in both taste and often texture, which sets each producer apart. Then add the skill of the baker - shape, size, slash techniques etc, wow the variation can be endless, as we see from photos on this site.

John & Stefan (& co) are can add whatever you like to your dough, but you can't call it Sourdough if it contains anything other than flour, water and salt. As mentioned before, Sourdough is a process, naturally leavened bread, long fermentation bread, using a dough of flour, water & salt.

It is a simple concept and one that needs to be respected. There are many other naturally fermented foods that have similar health benefits and are very old methods of production. Take the Garibaldi incident in SA, which killed 5 people. The natural fermentation of salami etc is an age old process, replace this natural fermentation with an added commercial culture and it does not behave the same way and if not done properly, can be lethal. There are a myriad of examples that relate to naturally fermented foods and beverages. These products have earned their right through history to remain, unadulterated, and Sourdough is one of them. The Sourdough process works very well without any aids. If you can't achieve it, then work on the quality of your flour and your techniques! It can be frustrating when it doesn't work....but perservere, it's worth it.

Truth in labelling should be at the core of every baker. My question here is why would a baker add an ingredient like AA and not declare it? Why on earth would you hide this? This is what should be argued. I know of several commercial "sourdough" bakeries that use AA and don't declare it. Shame on you.

Keep the word Sourdough for the real thing and use the word Artisan bread for non-industrial bread with some soft additives. Easily solved and does not deceive the consumer or peers.

John, you don't deserve this criticism but at least you declare who you are. I would be interested to know which commercial bakeries the contributors of this argument are from. You know where I am, any one interested in revealing who you are?



CaperAsh 2011 September 14

Well, what a conversation. Obviously all the insults and hysteria flying around have been unfortunate, but without meaning to add to all that I have to say that John D echoed something I was thinking to myself whilst reading through this all, namely that the hostile, emotional style of the respondents clearly reflected some sort of chemical imbalance. I heartily recommend natural, organic foods, including Real Sourdoughs.


Might help.


No guarantees of course!


Related for me: this thread has made me realize that I have not been honest with my customers and have to change my sign at the Farmer's Market. I did it for a reason, a good one, but that's not good enough. You see here in Canada by law they have to add chemical vitamins to all white flour, including organic, even though in so doing it is no longer truly organic. If I think about this for more than 2-3 seconds I become angry so I won't say any more except to add that I did not put this on my list of ingredients simply because I did not want to have to answer endless questions about it, and in so doing keep getting angry!!! But now I have read this thread I know what the real problem is: those chemical additives have chemically unbalanced me such that I now have the tendency to get angry about such stuff.


Help! I am chemically imbalanced by by otherwise totally purist and delicious sourdoughs.


Now I have only one loaf that is pure according to some on this thread: my 100% Whole Wheat loaf made from stone ground hard red winter wheat, Portuguese Sea Salt, revitalized/restructured well water which is sometimes also filtered but usually not.


My rye loaf has caraway but apart from that the same except it's a blend of organic white and rye flours.


My walnut loaf has walnuts. (gasp!). They are not organic but I can't afford organic since would have to be specially shipped in. Later, when I'm rich and famous (which means no longer running a small artisan bakery!).


My vollkorn (fresh-ground) loaves have ground flax, sunflower seeds, anise seeds, fennel seeds, coriander and caraway, the spices freshly ground with the flour.


Personally, I regard all of these as sourdoughs.


So I guess for me there are two related but separate issues which have been inadvertently joined namely:

a) organic versus not

b) naturally leavened versus not.


The problem is that nearly everyone who cares deeply about b) nearly always assumes a). Similarly, those who don't care much about a) don't care nearly as much about b) either. I suspect that the people who don't care about the organic issue honestly do regard artificial, 'scientifically' made substances as essentially equal to natural ones. No amount of 'scientific' 'facts' will persuade them to the contrary, though of course science has a hard time making these sorts of distinctions because, (and this is an unfair generalization of course but generally correct) science tends to have a very hard time analyzing living processes. It has to kill something to see it. Methodologically challenged, to say the least.


Speaking of least, lastly there is a question of style. Perhaps this is all about style. Perhaps the entire human learning experience (and without learning it isn't human imo) is about style, quality, qualities, art, taste, culture.


I find the injection of the notion of 'scientific facts' into a discussion about food, especially naturally fermented food like sourdough, both questionable and distasteful.


Of course, that's just my opinion.


But opinion is the most important thing when it comes to food, or judging food, comparing food, analyzing food. There is not a single scientific instrument which can evaluate organoleptics properly. This is not a put-down of science, but there are limitations to it, and one of them is that it can only do so much in terms of analyzing sourdough. In any case, opinion is ultimately purely subjective, and thus ultimately a judgment call, or about style. Style matters. A hand-made, hand crafted organic loaf says something meaningful. You add test-tube made ascorbic acid to it and it says something else. And as JohnD rightly points out, to the discerning organoleptic palate, it does make a difference. And some might argue that there is nothing subjective or opinion-related about taste, that taste is purely 'factual'. I beg to differ. All foodies know this. Non-foodies do not. Again, it's a style thing, ultimately.


And last again, in terms of style. Since you are setting up proper standards for artisan sourdoughs, I really, really, really think that as impossibly too late as it is to make the change, that the very word 'sourdough' is unfortunate. I have started to say to people 'naturally leavened' or 'naturally fermented'. I am not sure why. I think that the emphasis on the word 'sour' gives many not familiar with this type of bread (which is far too many these days) the mistaken impression that 'sourdough' is about baking bread with a sour flavour.


I don't know about you guys, but I don't give the slightest consideration to that at all. Maybe I am missing something. But my intention is to make delicious-tasting bread and the leaven helps release the flavours in the grain, and the best way it does that also gives the best flavour from the leaven, some of them being sour flavours, some sweet, and some a nice, multi-layered combination of the same. Or put it this way: I don't do sourdough for the effect of having a sour flavour in contrast to a yeast loaf. But the name 'sourdough' immediately leads people - including many professsional bakers it seems who seem perfectly happy to just add acetic acid and call it a 'sourdough loaf' - down a false piste.


Oh: I was encouraged by a professional friend to add vitamin C and brewer's malt. I did for a while. Then I stopped. To tell the truth, I noticed little difference. But I never felt comfortable with them and as soon as I saw that I couldn't perceive any discernible advantage, I gladly dropped them and never intend to touch them again.

If I really feel the need (which I don't) I would add some lemon juice, which I did at first. It does change things a little in the way that lemon juice always does. But that's another topic.

kerneltalk 2011 November 10


Toxicity and symptoms of high intake 

Since ascorbic acid is a water-soluble vitamin, toxic levels are not built up or stored in the body, and any excess is lost mostly through urine. If extremely large amounts are taken gastrointestinal problems may appear, but will normalize when the intake is cut or reduced. To determine a level where a person might experience discomfort is difficult, since some people can easily stomach up to 25,000 mg per day, while others start having a problem at 600 or 1,000 mg.


(ə-skôr'bĭk) pronunciation

A white, crystalline vitamin, C6H8O6, found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, and leafy green vegetables and used to prevent scurvy. Also called vitamin C.

[as-KOHR-bihk] The scientific name for vitamin C, ascorbic acid is sold for home use to prevent browning of vegetables and fruits. It's used in commercial preparations as an antioxidant.

A white, crystalline compound, also known as vitamin C. It is highly soluble in water, which is a stronger reducing agent than the hexose sugars, which it resembles chemically. Vitamin C deficiency in humans has been known for centuries as scurvy. The compound has the structural formula shown below.

Read more:

Vitamin C–deficient animals suffer from defects in their mesenchymal tissues. Their ability to manufacture collagen, dentine, and osteoid, the intercellular cement substances, is impaired. This may be related to a role of ascorbic acid in the formation of hydroxy-proline, an amino acid found in structural proteins, particularly collagen. People with scurvy lose weight and are easily fatigued. Their bones are fragile, and their joints sore and swollen. Their gums are swollen and bloody, and in advanced stages their teeth fall out. They also develop internal and subcutaneous hemorrhages.

There is evidence that vitamin C may play roles in stress reactions, in infectious disease, or in wound healing. Therefore, many nutritionists believe that the human intake of ascorbic acid should be many times more than that intake level which produces deficiency symptoms. The recommended dietary allowances of the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council are 30 mg per day for 1- to 3-month infants, 80 mg per day for growing boys and girls, and 100 mg per day for pregnant and lactatingwomen. These values represent an intake which tends to maintain tissue and plasma concentrations in a range similar to that of other well-nourished species of animals.

Obviously, the material pasted above is derived from the internet.


As a baker who relishes the removal of exquisite baked products from an oven and thoroughly enjoys the comments from friends and customers after consumption of same I often ponder those who need to denigrate others to polish thei own egos'.

Let's spruik the positives and let the negatives take care of themselves.


I too have experimented with ascorbic acid (in bread making of course) which I bought as capsules of Vitamin C from a pharmacist. It actually did everything I expected and produced a bolder loaf with good oven spring. a finer texture and smoother more colourful crust.


I researched and found that for for a fermented dough around 30mg or 30 grams of AA per tonne of flour was a reasonable amount or 75mg (75 grams per tonne of flour) for quick breadmaking eliminating the need for extended fermentation.

I ask the pharmacist for vitamin C he gives me Vitamin C I grind it up and dissolve it in water and it works. I think any doubters should try it.


Tomorrow, today will be history. Let's make it better for everyone.





Steffy 2012 March 2

 Hi all. I would like to thank JohnD for his article on 'Ascorbic Acid....why use it'. I realise it was written some time ago, but I just googled the pros and cons of ascorbic acid use in bread and John's article appeared. I couldn't agree more with the artical. I am relatively new to baking sourdough bread and I am able to create a tasty well formed loaf (most times) that is enjoyed by my family and friends. All I use is organinic flours, filtered water, salt and sourdough starter. I don't see the need to include any additives as my bread lasts days without losing it's flavour and quality. Therefore, in the light of uncertainty around the safety of additives, I totally agree with those who advocate a natural wholesome approach to breadmaking.  Thank you once again for your article.


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