Clean Label Bakery Formulations

Originally Published: November 15, 2015
Last Updated: February 23, 2021
Brownies typically rely on emulsifiers for moistness, but manipulating levels and types of sugars and fats can produce a clean label brownie with similar results.
David Busken on formulating for clean label baked goods.

By approaching formulation with a sense of openness and ingenuity, contemporary bakers can find clean label solutions, such as the savvy adjustment of sugar and flour ratios, or utilizing coconut oil’s capacity to improve the eating quality of cookies that would otherwise lean on trans fats.

November 15, 2015 – When it comes to clean label bakery formulations, what’s old really is new again, said David Busken, Consultant, Bakery Formulations. In preparation for his talk, Busken reviewed bakery formulations dating back decades and marveled at how “clean” those formulations were as recently as 30-40 years ago.

So, if the bakers of yesteryear could create breads, cakes and cookies using a relatively label-friendly toolkit, it stands to reason that today’s bakers could do the same.

Acknowledging that the precise outlines of a “clean” bakery ingredient remain fuzzy, Busken cut to the chase by sharing his own definition—it has a familiar name; it’s undergone minimal processing—and noting that many traditional bakery staples not only fit this bill but provide essential functionality, besides. The trick, he said, lies in understanding which ingredients are available, knowing where to find them and figuring out how to use them.

As a case in point, he relayed an anecdote from the 1940s. Yeast-raised donuts were notorious for drying out within hours of production. At some point, someone had the insight to mix mashed potatoes into the dough, hoping that the moist-and-fluffy side dish might improve the donuts’ texture. It both extended their shelflife from hours to days and “made an industry,” Busken said.

Finding clean label solutions is easier when building a baked good from scratch, Busken said. Cleaning up existing formulations is by far the heavier lift, if for no other reason than consumers’  established expectations for taste, texture and shelflife. (And don’t disregard the implications reformulation might have on production, packaging, supply chains and more; if a clean label cookie spreads more than its predecessor, for example, it may not fit into its tray, Busken pointed out.)

He walked the audience through several examples of how pre-existing ingredients, not to mention strategic tweaks to processing and handling, can combine to form clean label baked goods as hedonically appealing as they are operationally friendly.

Here are just a few of the cases he discussed:
High-ratio layer cakes. Such cakes—named for their high ratio of sugar to flour—are among the more challenging bakery products to “clean,” because they depend on emulsifiers and chlorine-bleached flour for their fine grain and softness, Busken said. His clean-up suggestions: Use a heat-treated flour instead of a bleached one; replace “chemical-sounding” emulsifiers, like PGME (propylene glycol and mono-esters) with cleaner options, like mono- and diglycerides (although not all may consider these two an option) and lecithin; and adjust the sugar-to-flour ratio downward—say, to 115-120%.

Muffins, quick breads and Bundt cakes. Because these products are usually 35% oil, 30% whole egg and 20% water, Busken said, they tend to remain moist on their own. But emulsifiers like sorbitan monostearate still often show up to produce a finer grain, moister texture and longer shelflife. Here again, hydrated mono- and diglycerides and lecithin can achieve similar results without dirtying up a label. What’s more, Busken added, “I’ve done quite a bit of work on this; just get your sugar and flour ratio right and you can do that from scratch fairly easily.”

Brownies and bars. Chewy brownies and bars often rely on emulsifiers for their characteristic moistness. But Busken said that by simply manipulating both the levels and types of sugars and fats in the formulation, “you can get any kind of brownie you want with any kind of shelflife.” He pointed out that fats lower in saturates will produce the right density, while noting that the key with sweetener
choice is controlling how quickly the sugars crystallize, as well as how quickly the starch structure recrystallizes.

Crisp and soft cookies. Making a clean label, crisp cookie is a snap, but keeping a cookie soft for a six-to eight-month shelflife without using “chemicals” takes more effort. Once more, “crystallization control is your ally.” Syrups made from oats, tapioca, brown rice and agave have risen to the challenge, as have the sugars fructose, maltose and invert brown sugar, Busken said. And, to hold onto water in the finished product, he advised looking into label-friendly gums and hydrocolloids.

By paying attention to fermentation times and temperatures, the heat source in the oven or even how much agitation a pan of rolls receives as it proofs, bakers can create products with simpler, more familiar ingredients. It might sound old-fashioned, but in a clean label environment, that’s downright cutting edge.

David Busken, Consultant, Baking Formulations

November 11, 2015–Global Food Forums, Inc. — The following is an excerpt from the “2015 Clean Post Conference Magazine.”