I have had a loaf of bread sitting on my counter for a week now. My husband and I have been eating it in fits and starts – a piece of toast to go with my oatmeal one morning, a couple of slices of French toast another. Each time I used it, the bread seemed fresh and soft. Even this morning when I finally threw it out it was still un-moldy and Wonder-squeezable and it seemed a shame to waste, but my goodness… It was a week old!
I don’t know about you, but I am highly suspicious of bread that doesn’t go bad. In the REAL world, it should go stale and dry after a few days, possibly even sprouting the blue fuzzies. I should be able to take that stale bread, dry it on the counter, and then use it for stuffing or more French toast. What the heck is IN our bread nowadays that makes it last so long? I decided to check.
In my research I found others who said things like, “I don’t want to eat the bread because it can’t be good to have lasted that long.” Someone suggested that this person check the ingredients – a fine idea! I dug out another loaf of the same bread I’d just thrown out, bought at the same time and frozen. It had the usual ingredients, flour and milk and the like, but it had a few things that had me scratching my head; items such as sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate and L-cysteine hydrochloride. I decided to find out what they were.
Sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate is used as an emulsifier, plasticizer, or surface-action agent (plasticizer?). It is used in many things, including bread and meat batters (meat batters?). It is prepared from lactic acids and fatty acids. Sounds fairly harmless, actually. The Canadian Food and Drug Regulations allow for the use of use of sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate at levels from 0.05 to 2 percent. I got the impression from my research that it is a relatively new ingredient that has no real data backing it yet. Even the doom and gloom websites that said to avoid it couldn’t say why. As near as I could tell, it is a form of lactic acid which can sometimes cause headaches, intestinal upset and skin disorders in sensitive people. Folks who are lactose intolerant should avoid it, too. Iffy stuff, but I doubt that’s what is making the shelf life of my bread unnaturally long.
L-cysteine hydrochloride is an amino acid. From what I can tell, it is actually good for you and some people take it as a dietary supplement. The only possible negative effect I could find was that it could possibly cause chelation (removal) of minerals. It is used as an “improving agent” in bread, whatever that means.
Neither of these things seemed particularly dangerous to eat in small quantities and neither could explain why my loaf of bread had lasted so long. One source suggested maybe I just didn’t have any mold spores floating around my home, but I know I do. Other things go moldy. And what about the fresh, soft texture? What has prevented the bread from drying out and going stale? Even the taste was still fresh-ish (though admittedly not the perfection of hot-out-of-the-oven goodness).
So then I got thinking about some things I’d heard about irradiated wheat flour. Could that be it? According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s website, wheat and wheat flour, among other things, are approved for irradiation in Canada. The ingredients list does not have to mention an irradiated ingredient to the consumer unless it comprises more than 10% of the finished product. I suspect flour comprises more than ten percent of a loaf of bread and my ingredients list didn’t mention it, so we should be okay on that score. Besides, would irradiation of the flour cause the bread to remain mold-free? I doubt it.
As an aside, the jury is still out for me as to whether irradiated food is harmful to eat. Some sources state that vitamins are killed in the process and turned into carcinogens, which kind of makes sense, knowing a little about how gamma radiation works, but that’s the subject of another post.
In the end, I haven’t answered my question about why my bread doesn’t go bad, but I will say one thing. I do feel a little bit better about the ingredients!