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Cooking without additives


jessicahowles
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Hi guys,

I read about some bakers (most notably Japanese ones) who don't use additives in their baking. I have heard of cases where baking soda, baking powder, gelatin and artificial flavorings are avoided. Just want to know what you guys think about it and whether it is something which is commonly practiced by other pastry chefs.

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The first three do not fall into the additive category for me. Baking soda and baking powder are necessary for some pastries as a levener. Gelatin is needed in some recipes, like panna cottas and mousses as a thickener and stabilizer.

Artificial colours and flavors are a different story. They are not needed in any recipe. Nothing disgusts me more at a bakery than neon coloured cookies and pastries. It just screams hack work.

"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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This year I volunteered at a small rural bakery/farm operation in Japan for a couple of weeks, and at some point the man who ran the place went on a pretty long rant on the "yeast food" that is used in the commercial bakeries (like Yamazaki-pan). He was pretty adamant against using, or even consuming stuff that had those additives in it, but as far as I could tell from research on just what "yeast food" is, its basically just nutrients and things that ensure the yeast are well fed, used to maintain consistent risings and whatnot. I'm not however if "yeast food" would be considered the same thing as dough improvers/conditioners in the US. At any rate, he wasn't so far into it that he avoided using baking soda/powder or gelatin

If there are any chemist/baker types who would want to cross reference, here's the list of chemicals listed on the Japanese wikipedia for what is used as "yeast food" over there:

ammonium chloride

magnesium chloride

Sodium gluconate

potassium gluconate

ammonium carbonate

Potassium carbonate

calcium carbonate

ammonium sulfate

Calcium sulfate

magnesium sulfate

(these next ones I'm just piecing together from my high school chemistry knowledge, so they might written be wrong)

diammonium hydrogenphosphate

tricalcium phosphate

ammonium dihydrogenphosphate

calcium hydogenphosphate

calcium dihydrogenphosphate

also vitamin C(s) as antioxidants + enzymes (apparently there's more than one type?)

I'd definitely be curious as to what the differences are between America and Japan on this front. Also, does anyone know if these bakers are against using them for health reasons, or because you can use the additives to skimp on some other part of the process and still make up for it? The baker I talked to said for health, but I imagine it could go either way (or neither, maybe it's just a marketing thing)

It's funny how large a gap there is between the bad food in Japan, and the good food. For a cuisine known for treating ingredients gently and simply, it's still the country that brought us instant noodles, msg, and so on.

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... does anyone know if these bakers are against using them for health reasons, or because you can use the additives to skimp on some other part of the process and still make up for it?

Some of those are just basically baking-powder components, and it's probably worth mentioning in case anyone is unaware of it that many chemicals on that list occur naturally either in your own body or in food plants anyway. (English word "Potassium" -- Europe calls it Kalium, the Latin -- is linked with "pot ash" because Potassium is abundant in plants, especifially trees, therefore fireplace ashes -- also in animals like us.)

I mention it because there's a type of head-in-the-sand hubris in the US where people balk at "chemicals" on any ingredient lists, without bothering to figure out that their own ingredients list contains many more chemicals, including some of those used explicitly in food. Or people who swear that any MSG makes them break out in hives, then harmlessly consume natural sources of it without knowing. That sort of thing.

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...there's a type of head-in-the-sand hubris in the US where people balk at "chemicals" on any ingredient lists, without bothering to figure out that their own ingredients list contains many more chemicals, including some of those used explicitly in food. Or people who swear that any MSG makes them break out in hives, then harmlessly consume natural sources of it without knowing. That sort of thing.

Agreed. The term "additive" is essentially meaningless, and "chemical" is completely meaningless, at least with regard to food. All food is 100% chemicals, just like our bodies. I think this kind of effort just preys on consumers' uninformed fears.

The trend among many of the best chefs lately has gone, I'm happy to say, in the opposite direction: they are embracing ingredients and techniques once known only to industry. Their goals, however, rather than being about cheapness or infinite shelf life, are centered on quality of flavor and texture.

Notes from the underbelly

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