Bread is one of the most staple, cheap, fast foods in Nigeria. It is widely eaten and ubiquitous in many households. Because most consumers prefer it soft, fluffy and smooth, the use of artificial enzymes and chemicals and improvers able to provide these qualities became common in bakeries. One of these bread improvers is Potassium bromate, which was banned by NAFDAC in 2004, due to its link as a cause of cancer and many other deadly diseases.
Potassium bromate, or simply called bromate, is an oxidizer used to strengthen dough and enhance its elasticity. It is added to wheat flour to strengthen the dough and allow it to rise higher. It bleaches and increases dough elasticity by making tiny bubbles that help the dough rise. Furthermore, it gives the finished product (bread) an appealing white color and makes it soft and fluffy.
Typically 15-30 parts per million (ppm) of potassium bromate is added to dough. Normally, baking changes its chemical composition and renders it harmless, leaving no trace in the finished product. However, if too much of the additive is used, or the bread is not baked long enough or at a high enough temperature, then a residual amount will remain. In 1999, the International Agency on Research for Cancer declared that potassium bromate was a possible human carcinogen, which means that it possibly causes cancer. During laboratory experiments carried out on animals, exposure to potassium bromate increased the incidence of both benign and malignant tumors in the thyroid and peritoneum. It also has the potential to disrupt the genetic material within cells. It has been banned as a food additive in a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Canada, Brazil and the European Union.
Potassium bromate is cheaper and more widely available than other food additives, hence, its continuous usage despite the dangers it pose to human health and even the harmless alternatives that could be used. It also gives a more appealing end-product, in terms of appearance and texture. In a low-margin, high-volume and perishable food product like bread, cost and end-product does matter. This is probably why, a decade and half after it has been banned, bromate is still very much in use for bread baking in bakeries across Nigeria. Besides cancer, Bromate has also been discovered to cause a handful of other diseases. These include renal failure, kidney failure, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea etc. It also affects the nutritional quality of bread, by degrading the vitamins and essential fatty acid contents of the flour. Thus, a bread improver with bromate offers close little or no nutritional benefits to its consumers. Considering the rate at which bread is consumed on a daily basis in Nigeria, we can conclude that there is high dietary exposure to bromate, hence, a high risk of cancer and other fatal ailments.
Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) is considered a healthy alternative to potassium bromate. Glucose oxidase is an option sanctioned by FSSAI in 2015. Other food improvers and flour treatment agents approved by law include ammonium chloride and amylases.
It is important for you to be aware of the conventional brands using potassium bromate in their products and AVOID THEM. You can go for organic bread because potassium bromate is not allowed in organic products. Better still, you can bake your own bread.