All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Another Tartine 100% Whole Wheat Bread

GMO labeling
I've been interested in learning about genetically modified wheat ever since I began baking bread several years ago.  The whole topic of genetically enhanced food interests me, of course -- as it should everyone who eats. As a health professional, I believe I see the cumulative bad health effects of bad diet.  I remain curious about what might constitute a good diet, these days.

As far as foods that are genetically modified, and how these might ultimately affect our health, I'm afraid we just do not know. These days soybeans, corn and canola are almost entirely modified genetically in North America. I try to avoid these, or choose organic versions of them wherever possible, but I'm sure I get some of the GMO with these common foods.

Not so for wheat, of course.  Although it has been modified since the dawn of agriculture (recently I read somewhere that new varieties of wheat have been introduced on the average of every 16 years, for millennia), and many people are beginning to suspect that our current varieties of wheat are mutated to the point that they are dangerous to us, nevertheless, wheat alone of our most common grains remains free of recombinant genes from other species.  Oh, humans can do it -- we have the technology to do it, and test plots for various types of genetic modification have been grown by researchers -- and trampled, and set ablaze by protesters, in Germany, France and England.  You see, there is significant social resistance against using genetically modified wheat, even in test plots, since bread has such a central place in so many of our cultures.  Social resistance alone has so far kept genetically modified wheat from our diet.  The big companies who supply wheat seed would like nothing better than to let it loose.

So I have been watching the propaganda being bandied about in California as that state gears up for its historic vote on Proposition 37 on the ballot next month on whether food producers and manufacturers ought to label food as "genetically modified" or not.  Mark Bittman, who writes about food in the NYTimes, had this to say about the upcoming vote and how it might have national significance.  And what the US does, Canada will likely follow, as it so often does in the interest of good trade relations.

My understanding is that the proposition began as an idea from the mind of Pam Larry, a grandmother who farms in Chico.  She started organizing mothers and other volunteers across California by suggesting that food consumers have the "Right to Know" whether the food they buy and eat contains genetically modified objects.  For this proposition to even be considered on the ballot, they required a lot of petitioners.  They gathered almost 1 million signatures to get the proposition considered.  More have since signed.  And as you can imagine the proposition has polarized people:

  • those who like the idea of organic foods, sustainable ecological farming methods, food safety, public health, environmental groups ("commie veg-head vegans who support Hitler's ideas!") like the idea of knowing what is in their food
  • those who like cheap processed food, and mostly those who provide it ("Evil Power-mad Monsanto Imperialist Dictators bent on Mind Control!"), don't like the idea of telling people that such food contains GMO.

Note that we are not talking about limiting the right of food producers to use Genetically Modified Objects in food they process or grow.  We are just talking about labelling, so people will know and can choose.

Since a lot of processed food contains some genetic modification, it will certainly come as a surprise to people when and if they learn that their food has been genetically modified. The ingredients that most processed foods use is derived from GMO -- certainly if it contains something derived from corn and soy and canola or the meat and dairy products that use these products.  The reason it contains GMO is that most crops now grown in North America are modified by the seed companies to withstand weed killers (and it just so happens that the seed companies also sell these weed killers).

The food producers are warning that labelling is going to cost a lot of money, and this cost is going to be passed on to consumers -- in other words, the cost of groceries is going to go up.  In my opinion, what it really means, though they won't say it outright, is that if they do label products and people refuse to buy the GMO stuff, they will be forced to look for more organic raw materials so they don't have to label it GMO, and this will be more expensive, because it is more expensive to grow.

I won't get into the studies that have shown the possible health hazards of these products, both for animals and humans, and for the environment.  You can find evidence, but its not all conclusive and the bottom line is, the FDA and Health Canada currently says its okay to eat it (and you can find paranoid conspiracists who believe that these same companies who push the GM foods have the FDA and Health Canada in their back pocket, so you can't really trust what the bureaucrats say, but I'll leave that for you to decide too).  All of that is beside the point, for the proposition simply says that consumers have the right to know.  Whether you agree with the spokespersons from the Biotechnology industry that this isn't really about that, but is an attack on "mainstream agriculture", is up to you.

There seems such a groundswell of support for the proposition in California, I just was curious about how the "no" side would even begin to try to combat the word-of-mouth endorsement that seems to be buoying up the "yes" side.  The following links show how badly the no side seems to be doing, I think:

Eg. Short Youtube videos 



Still, I wonder exactly how the legislation will play out, if and when such labelling laws are enacted.  I suspect that there will still be ways to hide GMO  and genetic modifications of food -- as food manufacturers have done with certain other ingredients and additives that have found their way into our diet.  More on this later.  But first...

Today's Bread
Another 100% whole wheat sourdough loaf in the Tartine style, this one at 77% hydration.  That was a bit too wet, the dough remained sloppy after 4 hours of stretching and turning.  And though the gluten was well developed, and the final ball of dough was tight before it went into the basket, it spread out somewhat while proofing.

Its saving grace was a surprising oven spring.  I've had better oven spring on tighter loaves, but this one was good, considering that the dough flattened out even more upon hitting the hot bottom of the Dutch Oven, and even more when I dragged a knife through the top to score it.

Cutting back the temperature
I have been cutting back ever-so-slightly on the oven heat for the final 20 minutes of my loaves these days, which results in a slightly less dark, less hard, less roasted crust.  I believe that this is going to be healthier, as a lighter colour generally indicates less acrylamides are forming.  Canada's recommendation for baking to reduce acrylamide suggests that one not exceed 450 degrees F and on my oven, I turn it down to 425 degrees F now for the final 20 minutes, when the bread is most exposed to the direct heat of the oven.  

Of course, the taste of the roasted grain is going to be compromised somewhat (because of course, the Maillard reaction gives us lots of flavour and aromatics), but the bread, to me, still tastes good.  

It is the genius of the Tartine method that the Dutch oven works in concert with a well-hydrated dough.  The initial 500 degree oven is used for preheating, and for the period when the dough is rapidly expanding due to the gases trapped in the gluten web.  During this period, crust is kept from forming because of the steam -- in this case, the steam from the dough itself, which is trapped close to the loaf due to the enclosed space of the Dutch Oven.  Once the crust is formed (at about the 10 minute mark), the temperature has to be backed off to the 450 degree mark, and because of that, fewer acrylamides form.  One must also say that the longer fermentation time of the sourdough also will decrease the acrylamides.

Note on Acrylamides
I've spoken of acrylamides and the use of asparaginase to reduce it's formation in this blog before.
But some of it bears repeating.

Acrylamide is in our environment as a component of vinyl, and it has found industrial uses as a soil conditioner, in wastewater treatment, in cosmetic, paper and textile industries -- and it is also in our food.  It is therefore ubiquitous.  We know it's dangerous, but we don't really know how the cumulative exposure to it is affecting us.

Health Canada is busy trying to tell us about the possible dangers of Acrylamide in our food.  There is a lot more of it in French fries and coffee than in bread, but its in bread too.  Don't stop your kids from cutting off the crust and throwing it away if they want -- they are smarter than we are.

Asparaginase as an Additive to Flour and Dough
Europe is way ahead of North America in its awareness of acrylamides in food, and in finding ways to reduce the amount we consume.  In 2006, a workshop was convened in the Netherlands and the following methods were suggested to reduce acrylamides in cereal products (this list is from Konings, E, et al. (2007) "Acrylamide in cereal and cereal products: a review on progress in level reduction" Food Addit Contam. 24(suppl 1). pp. 47-59):

  • Adjust time and temperature of baking
  • Extend fermentation times
  • Substitute ammonium bicarbonate with alternatives (e.g sodium bicarb)
  • Avoid or minimize the use of reducing sugars
  • Maintain uniform control of the colour
  • Avoid very high baking temperatures
  • Use Asparaginase

My understanding is that there are also some antioxidants (and also, of course, flavours and aromatics and colours) that form during the heating/baking process, and the more you heat it, the more you get.  But my guess is there has to be an optimal point where the amount of dangerous acrylamides are not going to be counteracted by any amount of antioxidants.  One study indicated that as temperature increases, acrylamides increase exponentially, whereas antioxidants only increase linearly.

Swedish researchers discovered acrylamides forming in the Maillard reaction, and determined that they were cancerous in animal studies.  Then, rather independently, Mottram's team at the University of Reading in the UK, (Mottram, D. S., Wedzicha, B. L., & Dodson, A. T. (2002). "Acrylamide is formed in the Maillard reaction". Nature, 419, 448–449.) and Stadler's team in Nestle's lab in Sweden (Stadler, R. et al.(2002) "Acrylamie from Maillard reaction products" Nature. 419(6906). pp 449-50) discovered that the amino acid asparagine, when combined with carbohydrates and sugars, is the primary culprit that causes the formation of acrylamide.  They both published short articles in Nature in 2002, and these articles are still cited as definitive by researchers who seek to minimize the amounts of acrylamide we are all exposed to.

DSM Bakery Ingredients (a Food & Pharma corp, with worldwide offices, said to be the "largest fermentation company in the world") of the Netherlands was one of the first to capitalize on the idea that asparaginase could break down the asparagine prior to heating, and this would minimize the dangerous biproducts of baking.  ( L. de Boer et al. (2005) "Reduction of acrylamide formation in bakery products by application of aspergillus niger asparaginase" from: Using Cereal Science and Technology for the Benefit of Consumers).

DSM IP Assets patented the use of asparaginase for this purpose, and they also patented several production methods designed to use asparaginase in this way.  Methods of extracting and purifying asparaginase had already been patented by Bayer.  Now new methods of extracting it, crystallizing it, stabilizing it were patented by several companies.  And then new methods of creating asparaginase via bacteria -- some with genetically modified e.coli, for example -- were patented.  Further patents were issued for genetically modified potatoes and other products that would have far less asparagine in them to begin with.  Many of the patents are by genetic labs that are owned or run by pharmaceutical companies.

So what we are seeing is, the world has been sold on this idea that acrylamides are bad, and to reduce their consumption, we must reduce the asparagine, a non-essential amino acid, and to do this, we can add asparaginase to our flour, and dough, and treat our potatoes (and coffee?) with it, and feel better about what we are eating.

For example, Canada's food regulators have determined that the best way to cut down on the acrylamide in bread and other foods that are produced for mass consumption in factories is to allow the addition of asparaginase, an enzyme that breaks down the enzyme asparagine.  I've seen studies that suggest the acrylamides in bread can be reduced by 34-92% by adding asparaginase to dough 

But a news item in late 2009 called Health Canada's step of allowing a cancer drug into our food supply "unusual."

Back to Labelling
There was a huge concern by consumers prior to the legalization of this additive in Canada (and even now, there are -- failed -- ongoing petitions to try to stop it).  

Yes, the enzyme is also used therapeutically as a cancer treatment (hence the interest in it by the pharmaceutical companies), and it is made by genetically modifying microorganisms that produce them naturally (hence the genetic labs), to enhance their production, and consumers wanted to ensure the enzyme was safe to use in food, and they wanted to know if it would be possible to avoid the additive due to labelling.  To answer the questions of the Canadian consumers, the government posted this FAQ, where they say the enzyme is destroyed by cooking and digestion.  Its desired effect -- of reducing acrylamides by breaking down asparagine -- is accomplished during the baking or cooking part of its delivery.

I read this page with interest, noting that if flour is treated with asparaginase, the product that is made and sold with that flour does not have to name it on the label; but if consumers buy that flour directly, it does have to be labelled.  And restaurants are not required to tell anyone if the additive is used -- and indeed, if they are using a product that uses flour that contains the additive, they probably will not even know themselves.  In other words, the additive can effectively be hidden, if a food producer wants to hide it.  

And I predict it will be the same thing with GMO, if labelling laws come out of California and spread throughout the rest of the continent and world.  Asparaginase itself generally comes from a genetically modified bacteria.  Although the enzyme is apparently purified, before it is added to flour or dough, would that genetic modification of its host have to be disclosed by labelling?  That is one of the rats nest of interwoven dependence on GMO that would have to be ironed out before proposition 37 could be put into action.  And who would do this ironing out?  Well, it would be the legislators.  And they would get their info from the scientists, not from the concerned grammas of California.  

I'm just saying.

There will be loopholes in any legislation, and the corporations will skate right through them.  You watch: they will set up a dummy corporation which will disclose the GMO status of some ingredient to its customer, but the customer/company that uses that ingredient won't be required to pass the info on.  Or some such nonsense.  The info will remain hidden to the end user.

Currently asparaginase is not mandated to be put in bread, or French fries and other junk food, but it sounds as if Health Canada strongly encourages its use.  The same already goes in the U.S., which as I've said before, usually makes Canada follow suit.

Meanwhile, we are not even allowed to know who petitioned the government to have the ingredient legalized for food.  We are told it was 2 companies, but we don't have their names.  There is a hint given, if one wanted to look up Canadian and international patents for methods of producing and purifying asparaginase.

There are lots of such patents to wade through, but this patent by Frito-Lay is probably the one that is most relevant, as they are specifically using asparaginase to reduce acrylamide and they have patented several production methods (e.g. here and there).

Additives have a cost, and I'm guessing that whoever sold Frito Lay on asparaginase may have pointed out that one day they may be sued by cancer-wracked consumers because the products they produce contain excessive amounts of acrylamide, and they have to show that they are doing something about it, now that they have become aware of it.  Or it could be that Frito-Lay expects to make money on its own patents, when legislation starts mandating the use of asparaginase in foods (if they ever do).

So you ask, "Who is selling asparaginase?"  And if you ask this of Google News, you quickly come to a business-related news item like this one, where the company Lundbeck decides to stop making their anti-Leukemia drug Elspar containing asparaginase because they say they can no longer consistently get enough asparaginase to meet demand, and this cancer drug is only 1% of their revenue, so they pull the plug on it, before they are legislated to find another source for it.  Elspar isn't a new drug.  It  was made by Merck & Co, until it was sold to Ovation Pharmaceuticals, who then sold it to Lundbeck in 2009.  Now it competes with the more expensive Erwinaze by Jazz Pharmaceuticals and Oncaspar by Sigma-Tau Pharamaceuticals.  So where do these drug firms get their asparaginase?  And where did Lundbeck get it before they pulled the plug on Elspar?  Well, its produced by "an unnamed contract manufacturing organization (CMO)."  

In other words, one ends one's research into an additive that may one day, eventually become added to many if not all of our foods, in the hidden corporations and acquisitions of pharmaceutical interests, who also have a tight hold on our genetics labs around the world.

Results of the Bread
A good bread.  The holes were a bit large for honey and jam, and I got heck for that.  Still, the loaf I gave away and the loaf I kept disappeared quite quickly.

Labelling this bread
There are no recombinant genes in this bread, or in the hard red Canadian winter wheat that I've used.  The sea salt I used has no anti-caking or preservatives affixed to it.  The flour has been slow-roll milled, and the 5% wheat germ that was taken out during rolling was immediately refrigerated and then returned to the loaf at the time of mixing.  The water comes from our sandpoint, and has been double-filtered enroute to our kitchen.  The sourdough with its yeast and lactobacteria that I've used is entirely wild and grown in my kitchen over the last 4+ years.

There's nothing else in it.  It's the best I can do, with what I currently know, and what is available to me.

Notes to Myself
  • Blogging about something that is about to happen, and over which I have no control at all, seems rather pointless.  Once this blog is "out there" and the vote in California is done, this blog posting and the way it is written will just be one more stupid thing said prior.  The vote is all that matters.  Perhaps I will edit this posting here to report on the outcome, once I learn it:

    Stay tuned.
  • UPDATE: The proposition was defeated.  My friend who lives in California had not heard anything about the proposition prior to my telling him, and he considers himself a concerned voter.  It would seem that the groundswell of support that went from mouth-to-mouth was not enough to reach everyone.  And it seems that that the big money behind the 'No' vote decided that keeping quiet was in their best interest.  Or, it could be like what I said here: people don't want to know that GMO products are in their food, and legislators can't begin to figure out how to tell them.
  • Acrylamide is a proven carcinogen in animals, but there have been no conclusive studies in humans yet. In humans, it is as yet merely a known neurotoxin. (Friedman, M. (2003) "Chemistry, biochemistry, and safety of acrylamide: a review". J Agric Food Chem 51(16). pp. 4504-26) And although governments are trying to reduce the levels we eat, we really don't know how much is going to be safe yet. It is in bread, as well as french fries, potatoes, and coffee -- anywhere there is a Maillard reaction, anywhere there is carbohydrate and asparagine exposed to heat (and perhaps Methionine can make some, but it also must have ammonia).
  • Is asparaginase in short supply to drug manufacturers because food producers are taking all of the stock now?  I wonder if there is just more profit for the asparaginase suppliers in selling it to the food manufacturers? 
  • I gave up before looking through the entire list of patents, but this is representative:  
    • Scientists at Bayer seem to have patented a process of enriching and crystallizing asparaginase as early as 1974. 
    •  A method of purification of the enzyme was patented by an individual on behalf of the Public Health Laboratory Service Board Limited, of the U.K. 
    •  One U.S. company, J.R. Simplot Co., aims to genetically reduce the amount of asparagine in plants (such as potatoes) so that they don't create as much acrylamide 
    •  The GM e.coli bacteria that produce enhanced levels of asparaginase seems to be an invention of some Americans, and the process is owned by a Portuguese company which is then owned by an American pharmaceutical firm, Enzon.
    •  Yet another recombinant method for producing asparaginase was patented by US inventors for Novozymes Biotech Inc. of the U.S.  
    • Novozymes of Denmark also figured out a way to stabilize asparaginase. 
    •  Also patented are the novel industrial uses for the enzyme, by DSM IP Assets
    •  DSM IP Assets of the Netherlands also has a patent on the food production system that uses asparaginase. 
  • Curiously, in the rush to use asparaginase, the work of Brathen  (Brathen, E. (2005) "Addition of glycine reduces the content of acrylamide in cereal and potato products." Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 53(8) pp. 3259-64.) on the addition of the non-essential amino acid glycine to dough, seems to have so far gone unnoticed.  This article suggests that when you add glycine to dough, you can reduce the amount of acrylamide that forms on crust by 50 -  >90%, depending on the process.  

    Glycine as an additive is made by Dow and other chemical manufacturers, and is one of the ingredients in Monsanto's Glyphosate.

    Typical natural foodsources (other than meat sources -- in other words, food sources that would be of interest to vegetarians like myself, and might be possible to use as a coating on bread before baking) are gelatins, egg-whites, sesame seeds & defatted sesame seed flour, seaweed, soy protein isolate, soy meal, and soy flour, safflower seed flour, and peanut flour.

    In other words, I may be able to coat a bread that is about to be baked with some freshly ground safflower seed flour, and the acrylamides will be drastically reduced.  I think I should try that sometime.  Then I wouldn't need to buy asparaginase to add to my otherwise unadulterated whole wheat bread.

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