What is Potassium Bromate? - The hidden traitor in your bread.Introduction:
An almost frequent visitor at our homes along with the bread packets we bring in, potassium bromate is the little hidden traitor we never knew of. Potassium bromate (KBrO3
) is a white crystalline powder of Potassium and bromine. It is prepared in two different ways:
1. By passing bromine into a solution of potassium hydroxide. For large scale production, the process of electrolysis to used.
2. By the absorption process of bromine from ocean water into potassium carbonate to produce potassium bromide. The by product is potassium bromate.Bromine usages:
1. Flame retardants
2. Cell phones
6. Prescription drugs
7. Baking ingredientOxidation:
Potassium bromate is a strong oxidizing agent just like its partner in crime, potassium iodate. It can age or raise the flour dough much faster than any other procedure. It has bleaching properties as well, which means it is used for making flour made products like bread look whiter, surely something everyone likes without thinking of the harmful ingredient that imparts the color.So what’s wrong with it?
When the flour or dough that contains potassium bromate is not baked at high enough temperature or for very long time or if high amount of potassium bromate is added in the very beginning, the compound saturates in higher quantity and the product when consumed could be hazardous to health.Facts to be noted:1. Classification:
Potassium bromate is classified as a category 2B carcinogen, the cancer causing agent, by the International Agency of Research on cancer.2. Ban:
Potassium bromate is banned from usage in food products in the European Union, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Nigeria, South Korea, Peru, Sri Lanka, China and many other countries.3. Voluntary ban:
Though the compound is not banned in US, according to the Delaney Clause for the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, all potentially carcinogenic substances are banned. FDA has urged bakers to voluntarily stop the usage of this compound. Japan also followed the voluntary ban though some brands continued the usage of potassium bromate in different ways.4. India:
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India have not yet banned the usage of this compound. The recent study by the Centre for Science and Environment tested 36 local samples of leading brands of breads and buns and found 32 of the to be containing potassium bromate.5. CSPI report:
The Centre for Science in the Public Interest accused FDA of knowing for years the cancer causing effects of potassium bromate and yet failing to ban it entirely.6. Animal tests:
It was found in a study on rats that bromate caused cancer like tumors of kidney, thyroid and other organs.7. California warnings:
In California it is mandatory for baked products to carry cancer warnings on the label if potassium bromate has been used as an ingredient. Bakers in California hence switched to bromate free baking.8. Bromate free brands:
Popular brands including Pillsbury, Best Food Inc., Pepperidge Farms, and many others have been known to not use bromate at all in baking. Fast food chains continued to use bromate in their baked bread and buns.Health effects of Bromate:1. Children:
High level of bromate consumption in children or even exposure to high levels of brominated compound in flame retardants can make suffer from development issues.2. Bromism:
There is even a term for mental dysfunction when overexposed to bromine. It was found that a patient of bromism, someone who consumed large amount of soda that had bromate, suffered from fatigue, headache, memory trouble, and loss of muscle control.3. Kidney:
Potassium bromate is a kidney toxin that is known to kill human embryonic kidney cells in tests. To keep your kidney in good health, keep away from those white baked beauties.4. Hearing impairment:
When tested on animals it has been found that potassium bromate creates serious hearing imbalance within the inner ear. It can also lead to complete hearing loss in humans.5. Thyroid:
The functioning of thyroid gets imbalanced due to bromate and can lead to aggravation of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.6. Cancer:
Various researches have concluded that potassium bromate is a genotoxic carcinogen which does the worst of damage in cancer. Theories:
Normally, 15-30 parts per million (ppm) of potassium bromate is added in dough for making baked goods like bread, buns and pizza base. During baking the chemical composition is so altered that the compound becomes harmless. However, errors happen. Sometimes more of this compound is added. Other time the product is not baked for long which retains the harmful effect in the product.Why only this raising agent?
Yeast and baking powder rends the same raising and bubbling effect to baking dough and yet bakers choose potassium bromate and potassium iodate. What could be the reason? Cheaper price and easy availability is the main reason behind the usage at food chains and local bakeries. Bread is a low margin food that has low shelf life and is easily perishable under unfavorable conditions like too much moisture and heat. The cost at the end matters for bakers and hence this traitorous ingredient to the rescue!What is still allowed?
India allows the usage of potassium bromate and potassium iodate up to 50 ppm, on flour mass basis. In US the permissibility limit of potassium bromate and potassium iodate is up to 75 ppm, with a strict instruction on manufacturers to list the ingredient on the food label. Consume at your own risk.Alternative
The most shocking part is that there are alternatives to these harmful compounds. The alternatives are harmless and healthy in every way. Bakers can use ascorbic acid or Vitamin-C to produce the same end product. Glucose oxidase is also an alternative and it has been approved by FSSAI. Among other food alternatives to treat flour are ammonium persulphate, ammonium chloride, and amylases.Conclusion:
Just like the lead related ban on Maggi noodles, this one is going to take some time before bread can be considered safe and healthy. Meanwhile, look for brands in India that have said no to bromate like Pillsbury or you can always count upon Ramdev’s Patanjali to launch a bromate free bread and food chain just like the Atta noodles (whole-wheat noodles)!