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Replacing Emulsifiers With Enzymes for Clean Label, Cost‑Effective Dough Improvement

Chemical emulsifiers for dough improvement are commonly used during industrial-scale production of hot dog buns, hamburger buns, and pan breads. Emulsifiers like mono and diglycerides (MDGs), sodium stearoyl lactylate (SSL), calcium stearoyl lactylate (CSL), and diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides (DATEM) are widely used by commercial bakeries to ensure maximum efficiency and consistency on high-volume production lines, as well as extending softness and improving shelf life in buns and breads.

Commercial bakeries use emulsifiers to stabilize mixtures of air, oil, and water, preventing separation and holding of air cells in aqueous environments like doughs and batters. The stabilizing action of emulsifiers makes doughs strong, more machinable, and more tolerant to changes in mixing conditions. In finished goods, the addition of emulsifiers slows starch retrogradation, which contributes to improved crumb softness and extends shelf life.

Chemical emulsifiers also enable industrial bakers to increase consistency and profit margins on finished goods. But, despite the well-established benefits of emulsifiers, they are not without drawbacks.

Emulsifiers, Clean Label Goals, and Other Issues

The names of common emulsifiers may be unfamiliar to consumers and therefore act as roadblocks to attaining clean label goals. As more and more end consumers are checking the ingredients lists on the foods they buy, artificial-sounding names could be a potential turn off for a conscientious buyer. Moreover, chemical emulsifiers often have a sticky texture, require special storage and handling, or impart unwanted tastes that need masking.

Other options exist, such as vital wheat gluten (VWG) and L-cysteine, but these also come with formulation and production challenges. For example, while VWG is a natural ingredient and improves extensibility, it imparts a strong flavor and can lead to excessive gluten development, resulting in breads that are dense and hard to chew. L-cysteine, although it is an effective and widely used reducing agent in high-speed production, may not always conform to vegan or clean label parameters.

However, there are more suitable alternatives, namely enzyme‑based dough conditioners. These ingredients offer the functionality of MDGs, SSL, and more. Importantly, enzymes are all‑natural, easily integrated into formulations, and overcome many of the problems facing chemical emulsifiers and other dough improvers.

Natural Alternatives to Chemical Emulsifiers

Enzymes are naturally occurring catalysts for biochemical processes and are derived from living organisms like plants, bacteria, and yeast. Enzyme-based dough conditioners offer similar benefits to chemical emulsifiers with fewer drawbacks and better align with clean label formulations. For example, enzyme-based dough conditioners offer the same short-term softness benefits as MDGs while only requiring “enzymes” for the label. In addition to creating a simplified ingredients list, replacing chemical emulsifiers with enzyme-based solutions that are easy to use ma y reduce production costs. Compared to their chemical-based counterparts, a lower usage level of enzyme-based improvers is required to achieve desired results.

SSLDATEMVital Wheat Gluten (VWG)

With Enzymes, Less Is More

Formulators will often rely on multiple ingredients to inhibit mold, extend shelf life, increase the duration of softness, and improve extensibility. Rather than having to handle and store numerous ingredients, enzyme-based dough conditions offer the simplicity of replacing multiple other ingredients with a single, all-in-one solution. This simplifies the production process and may result in cost savings over buying individual dough improvers for specific processing and extended shelf life (ESL) functionalities.

Furthermore, enzyme-based dough improvers provide similar efficiencies to chemical emulsifiers at achieving desired results. That translates into a lower overall usage of ingredients needed. For example, an enzyme-based conditioner to inhibit staling can be used at rates 10% to 15% lower than MDGs. Lower volumes of ingredients mean fewer bakery resources are expended in handling and storage.

Labor, Supply, and Scalability

Since enzyme-based improvers are easy to store and handle and can be used for multiple functions compared to chemical emulsifiers, less labor is an added benefit to using the ingredients. Some emulsifiers can be sticky and difficult to use. Conversely, enzyme dough conditioners come as a free-flowing powder that is added directly to flour, thus reducing time spent working with the ingredient and lowering the potential for scaling errors.

Sometimes supply chain issues can make chemical emulsifiers difficult to procure. Lack of supply leads to issues in production, resulting in fewer buns, rolls, and breads ending up on store shelv es and a major hit to profitability. In contrast, large quantities of enzyme-based dough conditioners are readily available to bakeries. Switching to enzymes means bakers reliably hit production quotas and are more resilient to supply chain disruptions.

machine working dough

What to Expect When Making the Switch to Enzymes

Depending on the need, bakers and formulators may be able to replace all chemical emulsifiers in a formulation with an all-i none enzyme-based solution. Saf Pro® Star-Zyme™ STR 701 R, a multipurpose, enzyme-based dough improver by Lesaffre, is highly effective for replacing MDGs, SSL , DATEM, L-cysteine, and VWG in bun and pan bread applications.

By replacing chemical emulsifiers and ESL ingredients with Star-Zyme™ STR 701 R, bakers can expect improved dough relaxation and strength, less mixing time, improved volume, and more consistency in shape, taste, and texture. Instead of relying on MDGs for ESL benefits like short-term softness and crumb softness, Star-Zyme™ STR 701 R offers the same effects and a clean label with a single ingredient.

Improvement in the scaling accuracy of ingredients is also an added benefit when switching to enzymes. And, unlike some chemical emulsifiers which impart off-flavors and require taste masking, enzyme-based dough improvers like Star-Zyme™ STR 701 R have no impact on taste and texture in baked goods. Mix times and dough temperature consistency are also improved. A controlled trial of hamburger buns made with Star- Zyme™ STR 701 R showed a decrease in mix time of 2.5 minutes.


Field tests show enzyme‑based Star‑Zyme™ STR 701 R is highly effective as an ESL ingredient. Hamburger buns (shown left) stayed softer after 19 days compared to the control group. French rolls at 22 days were softer and had more specific volume. Hot dog buns were softer than the control after 28 days and had comparable specific volume.


While replacement of chemical emulsifiers with enzyme‑based solutions is made simple for commercial bakeries, technical support is available to formulators and bakers looking to make the switch. Lesaffre has more than 170 years of baking experience and is an industry leader in enzyme-based dough improvement. Every product by Lesaffre is vigorously tested in our test bakeries and proven in the field by the world’s leading industrial bakeries, ensuring each ingredient of ours is consistent, effective, and available at scale. Our baking and R&D experts are on hand to offer guidance and advice on when replacing MDGs, SSL, and more with natural, clean label ingredients.

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