So long “Artificial Preservatives”!!! Natural Mold Protection for Baked Goods

So long “Artificial Preservatives”!!! Natural Mold Protection for Baked Goods

The great reverence and aspiration behind our grandparents’ traditional baking recipes is the aura of wholesome natural ingredients. Realistically, I don’t believe my parents or grandparents had any qualms about using Crisco or any number of synthetic ingredients in their baking if they were readily available. Remember this is back when trans fats were still generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the US Food & Drug Administration?

 Continuing the story from clean label bakery texture improvers must include the second great culprit of baking: MOLD! Clean label options exist for bakery products to replace highly functional ingredients like propionates and sorbates. Grocery store baked goods utilize these “secret” ingredients such as “Calcium Propionate (Preservative)” that are readily apparent when you read the ingredient declaration, but their actual function is somewhat mysterious to most consumers. At a grocery store you can buy all the ingredients to bake bread, or you can buy extended shelf life bread, but you can’t really buy the ingredients to make extended shelf life baked goods at the grocery store.

Full of Synthetic or Natural Preservatives?
My Monday Bagel

Monday I open a bag of bagels and have one each morning, by the end of the bag on Friday it’s a gamble whether or not the last bagel or two will have a fuller “mold” beard than me. Why do some baked goods like the infamous TWINKIE never seem to mold? Sorbic Acid. A soft baked good without active preservatives left uneaten will last approximately week followed by fuzzy white or green mold spots across the outside.

Without buying fresh baked goods a few times a week, the only way to keep mold back is to use preservatives—including natural preservatives.

These natural mold blocking ingredients are typically sourced from other microbes and the drive is being fueled by conscientious consumers and manufacturers looking to meet demand for “clean label” products. Now instead of Calcium Propionate or Sorbic Acid, you will see “Cultured Wheat”, and “Vinegar”, “Cultured Whey” or “Cultured Dextrose” for gluten free products. These are still food preservative acids, only the manufacturing methods have changed.

 In most preservative systems food/ beverage pH must be reduced low as possible to discourage microbial growth. Cultured preservatives do produce acids as an active byproduct so mild sour taste is potentially expected at high use rates. One familiar example are sourdough starters, a variety of microbes produce a unique cocktail of acids including acetic and lactic, but here the tart sourdough flavor is expected. Artistinal bakers carefully regulate the environment via moisture, temperature, and flour type of their sourdough starter to the manipulate the acids produced to bring out/ accentuate different flavors.

While bakery shelf life typically focuses on treating stalling and mold resistance nothing can fix dirty environments and bakeries are dusty, and given sufficient water will grow mold. Both wheat flour and gluten-free flours are agricultural products and they bring in loads of natural microflora (yeast, mold, bacteria). If you use bleached flours or pre-gelled starches then maybe a few less microbes, but molds are still everywhere in our environment. The best mold prevention is to maintain good clean handling of ingredients and clean handling of baked goods too. Similar to pickled foods, baked goods formulated with acids and kept in a closed package acids can help prevent unchecked mold and yeast growth in everything from cookies to kefir.

 Once the good manufacturing practices have been addressed consider “cultured” ingredients. Anyone who enjoys the not-so-subtle twang of Swiss-type cheese might also appreciate cultured wheat/ dextrose preservatives. The bacteria Propionibacterium freudenreichii that produces the signature Swiss-cheese flavor produces “propionic acid” as part of a natural byproduct cocktail to suppress competitive yeast and mold. Where you taste “holey cheese”, mold tastes demise.

Propionates & Propionic Acid on Bread
Clean Label & Open-faced Propionate Sandwich

The synthetic form calcium propionate is chemically identical to the active compound and highly concentrated so the use rate will be lower. Typical use rate for cultured concentrates (wheat, dextrose, rice) to be effective against mold would be 0.3-0.5% of the total recipe and possibly less depending on the food. Some supplier's advise use rates of these cultured preservatives beyond 1%. My experience has shown some manufacturer's cultured preservatives contribute highly objectionable flavors. The worst I've sampled came across as Swiss-cheese flavored raisin bread even at the lowest doses. But it’s natural. In this situation try another manufacturer's version before ruling out the cultured ingredient option.

 If this sounds awful to you too, consider other cultured ingredients that helps fend off mold, but are still food acids. Acids I use regularly include distilled & buffered vinegars and lactic acid because they help reduce microbial growth and contribute the least undesirable flavor impact at the effective use levels (0.5-1.0% for powders). Lactic acid is what I think of for "sour cream" which doesn't sound too bad. Plus many of these acid options are now powdered for bakery mixes! No excuses. Powdered vinegars used between 0.5-0.7% contribute a faint lemony flavor, but definitely more identifiable as "vinegar" when used at 0.8-1.0% where the anti-mold effects are observed. Fortunately even at 1% vinegar powder, the flavor has not quite reached "salt & vinegar potato chips" level!

 Raisins, dates, and prunes are all wrinkly fruits good for digestive motility and mostly mold free due to their high sugar concentration, but these fruits' pulp also contain mold fighting acids (propionic, malic & salicylic) as well. If your product can tolerate some dried fruit flavors & color akin to molasses, then these fruits' paste may work. Until more refined options become available the use rates are still pretty high between 5-10%. When used at palatable food levels any acid-based bakery preservatives typically won’t reduce the dough/ batter pH dramatically enough to kill the mold, only make it less hospitable of an environment.

Many warm spices (Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Clove, & Ginger) and various plant extracts contain oils with antimicrobial functionality when the powdered whole spice are used over 1%. Spices are also agricultural ingredients themselves from distant tropical lands and may vary on the active level or quality of essential oils. Even worse, may introduce additional microbial flora to your product.

When it comes to using preservative flavors--these are less transparent when it comes to proprietary ingredient combinations (citrus & spice essential oils etc). This area is still emerging and manufacturers are frequently advertising these antimicrobials can be disguised as “flavors” on the ingredient label. Is calling mold inhibiting preservatives regardless of the source a flavor really being honest and transparent with customers?


1. How do you know if these cultured acids would work in your product? Both conventional wheat and gluten free baked goods can benefit from these natural preservatives.

2. Which clean label bakery preservative is better? Or the right one for your products? Call us and see how a minor ingredient can make major improvements.

3. The real question is could your budget afford a few-cent increase per item to extend shelf life from a few days to a few weeks? Would your customer approve? Would you consumer appreciate the effort?

If you're interested in further product and technical support from Brandon, contact him at

Thank you to the knowledgeable technical staff at Galactic & Big Deal Ingredients for their support in contributing to this article.