Azodicarbonamide (E927), also known as “yoga mat”, is an odorless, orange chemical substance that is found in close to 500 food products.
It is manufactured through a reaction of urea and dihydrazine sulfate under high temperature and pressure, followed by oxidation with sodium hypochlorite (commonly used as a bleaching agent or a disinfectant).
ADA has non-food applications such as – electronics, photography, and as an industrial chemical used to make shoe rubber, yoga mats, and synthetic leather.
It is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and approved by the FDA for use as a dough conditioner (to make it more elastic) in bread baking and as a whitening substance in cereal flour. You can find it in bagels, bread, pizza, pastries, tortillas, hot dog and hamburger buns. In addition, it is approved for use as a blowing agent in sealing caps for food recipients, like the ketchup bottles.
ADA must be declared in the statement of ingredients and can be added to flour at levels up to 45 ppm.
Since it is part of the flour making process, it is not always listed on food labels, but you can assume that it’s in most products made from white flour.
The Subway fast-food chain decided to remove ADA from its bread-making process and released the following statement – “Even though this chemical substance is considered safe, we are removing it from Subway bread. We have already developed an improved bread recipe, conducted consumer testing on it and extensive performance, and pending final government approvals.”
Many bread products still contain this chemical or some other form of an agent to ensure flavor, consistency, and texture.
The list of fast-food chains that still use it include:
- Starbuck’s – chocolate croissants and butter croissants;
- McDonald’s – bakery style bun, regular bun, bagel and English muffin, sesame seed bun, and Big Mac bun;
- Chick-fil-A – chicken salad sandwich, chargrilled chicken sandwich, and chargrilled chicken club sandwich;
- Burger King – artisan-style bun, specialty buns, croissant, sesame seed bun, home-style Caesar croutons, English muffin, and French toast sticks;
- Wendy’s – premium toasted bun, bagel, panini bread, and sandwich bun;
- Arby’s – French toast sticks, croissant, honey wheat bread, harvest wheat bun, mini bun, marble rye bread, sesame seed bun, and onion bread;
- Jack in the Box – jumbo bun, bakery style bun, grilled sourdough bread, croissant, and regular bun.
Europe, Singapore, and Australia restricted the use of ADA because this substance is considered to be a “respiratory sensitizer” that can cause asthmatic and other types of allergic reactions.
Side effects of azodicarbonamide
There are two chemicals which form when a bread is baked with ADA. One breakdown product, urethane, is a recognized carcinogen. When ADA is used at its highest admissible level, it leads to urethane in bread that acts an adverse effect on humans. The second product is semicarbazide, that caused cancers of the blood vessels and lungs in studies on mice, but poses a negligible risk to humans.
Asthma and allergies
According to a WHO – World Health Organization report, regular occupational exposure to ADA can lead to allergies and asthma. Furthermore, the World Health Organization report notes many of those who developed respiratory complications and asthma experienced symptoms within just 3 months of exposure to this chemical. More importantly, the World Health Organization report noted that physical exposure to ADA caused recurring dermatitis.
The World Health Organization report concluded – “The level of risk is uncertain, therefore, exposure levels to this chemical should be reduced as much as possible.”
Free radicals are highly reactive and unstable molecules, commonly oxygen molecules. A 2003 study by the Radioisotope Center, Mie University School of Medicine, Japan concluded that this harmful chemical caused free radical damage to DNA of animals. Free radicals can disrupt the duplication and maintenance of DNA and can alter the structure by reacting with the DNA bases.
To avoid ADA and other chemicals, purchase bread labeled 100% whole wheat that does not contain any added enriched flour and made with organic flour.