Novice baker has question about commerical additivies


I asked this question at the forum at another well-known and respected baking site I suspect the readership here is familiar with. Never received any replies. Hope to do better here:

I’ll take King Arthur Flour as an example but I could point to other companies: KAF’s catalogues advertise “improvers”-- and their recipes often include the use of a KAF “improver”-- for example, for pizza dough, for rye dough and I believe for whole wheat. They also sell sourdough starter. One cannot know from the advertisement or the pictured product what it contains. It appears that one can only learn that by purchasing the product.

I have nothing against the use of any additive that will enhance or improve a recipe, but I would like to know what it is in advance and what the rationale for it is. Ideally, I would prefer to add the elements/components of that product myself and be able to vary the quantities myself and test the results myself, rather than relying on a commercial product. My questions are:

  1. Do any of the membership here have firsthand experience with these commercially available products they would be willing to share? If you know what these enhancers/improvers consist of, do you have an opinion on whether any of these items is worthwhile (preferably worthwhile not merely in theory but also in practice)? Would you recommend their use? Would you recommend instead attempting to accomplish the same benefits with additives of your own based on what you have learned?

  2. My impression is that purchasing a small quantity of commercially prepared sourdough starter offers a convenience item for the individual interested in making a limited number of recipes just to see what sourdough bread baking is like before committing himself to making and maintaining one’s own starter.

Is there any other advantage the commercial product offers?

Thanks to anyone willing to respond.

It probably takes as much time to make a starter as it does for one to arrive in the mail. Personal preference in my opinion.

Diastatic malt powder – which i think is what you’re talking about by improver, but not sure – can enhance browning of the crust and fermentation. I own it. I’ve used it. I didn’t happen to notice a difference but i was only using it on all purpose/bread flour dough, not my whole grain doughs. That wasn’t a strategy rather just how it worked out.

Flour, water and salt… that’s all you need.

Of course, i love to play so i add things e.g. sprouted lentils most recently. An improver of sorts :wink:

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I agree with all Melissa (@Fermentada) wrote.

Additionally, I personally subscribe to the K.I.S.S. “keep it simple sweetie” …

I have used Vital Wheat Gluten to good results when using a high percent of whole grain. I’ve used the Diastatic Malt Powder … like Melissa not noticed much with that.

Bottomline, while I LOVE when all comes together: crumb, crust, taste … ultimately I care about taste. If a loaf is flattish or closed crumb but tastes great - YEA!

Flour, water, salt. Make the No Knead Sourdough (or commercial yeast version) until you can do it “in your sleep”. THEN branch out to the additives.

Slight disclaimer … I am fortunate to have EXCELLENT well water with no chemicals and use that out of the tap along with a locally minimally processed flour. I’ve had no issue making starter with my water and flour - twice. And maintaining … even in northwest Montana and even though I keep my house 62-64-68F max year round.

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I’m grateful for the prompt responses from easummers and fermantada to my question earlier. I couldn’t get the sense whether either of you had actually used the KAF products I mentioned and knew from firsthand experience what components were in them (I neglected to mention their “special baker’s milk powder”-- that’s another item that has me wondering how it differs from any other dried milk powder on the supermarket shelves). But your answers accord with my instincts-- which is that these enhancers and improvers are unlikely to add spectacularly to the minimal basic ingredients. I have nothing against KAF; I use their flours without hesitation. But I’ll take a pass on the additives. Thank you.

I find the commercial Products are for people who do not want to make them in the home kitchen. I have used KAF rye bread improver, which does enhance the flavor of Rye bread. It is also very easy and a lot less expensive to make the bread spice yourself which also imparts a lot more flavor and aroma.


Thank you Mr. Blomberg. This is the kind of reply I was hoping for. You say it is “very easy and a lot less expensive to make the bread spice yourself”–would you please say how you do so?


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If I remember correctly their whole wheat bread improver is mainly vital wheat gluten plus a little baking powder. Their magic bakers special powdered milk is the same a carnation.
Their sourdough starter is much like all sour dough starters, it’s a bit of existing live or dehydrated starter, which needs to be hydrated, fed, and left to grow, it’s not a one shot deal. KAF makes money by charging exhorbitant prices for things readily available elsewhere. Buy from Breadtopia, you can’t go wrong.

I think all the “improvers” are for home bakers who want to get close to what they think artisan bread should taste like but not do the “work” to get the flavors the natural way (e.g., good sour wild yeast starters, specific types of flour, long proofs, etc.). I join the other voices in this thread and say all you really need to get the great taste is good flour, water, salt and a vigorous wild yeast starter. (If you’re a novice, start out with wheat flours.). AND HAVE FUN!

The responses to my question are, thankfully, what I hoped to hear and what instinct would lead me to expect. If I wanted to taste commercially prepared bread with commercially available additives, I would not be baking my own bread.

Thank you all.

@g0g0, I definitely resonate with your comment: “If I wanted to taste commercially prepared bread with commercially available additives, I would not be baking my own bread.” I started my bread baking journey about a year ago. I was gifted some sourdough from a sweet friend in February 2018 and baked my very first loaf of no-knead sourdough in April 2018. Real bread! I was baking and eating REAL bread made with just fresh flour, water, my own starter and salt; no additives, no preservatives, no stabilizers, no “junk”. I’ve been baking my own no-knead sourdough loaves since! I haven’t bought any bread products from a store since I started making my own bread! I have favorite recipes here on Breadtopia that I bake routinely. I’ve even been able to modify recipes to accommodate recent health issues with my husband so that we can continue to enjoy my homemade bread. Enjoy your baking journey!



Thank you, Leah. The tenor of every reply I have heard on this subject at this site is in agreement.


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Let me chime in with the chorus, IMO the “bread improvers” are a waste of money. I love KA products but their improver has really not done anything for my breads. To be fair, I haven’t tried it with 100% whole grain. I usually bake with 55% King Arthur Bread Flour plus freshly milled 20% Rye, 15% Whole Wheat. The starter is from Breadtopia,, after two feedings (probably one would have been enough, but I was being cautious) it was frisky and ready-to-go. Better than any other starter I have made myself of have bought. Named it “Eric” in honor of Eric. :slight_smile: The rest is technique - I’ve learned a lot from this website - Eric has great educational videos, Ken Forkish “Flour, Water, Salt & Yeast” and YouTube. Good luck with your experimentation!

Thank you Eric.

to piggyback a bit. i am a home brewer. we frequently add fermax, a yeast nutient mix when punching up our yeasts prior to pitching. has anyone tried that with their sourdough starter? and to what effect?

I think your question may actually be more complicated than you think. For example, while many would say they do not use diastatic malt powder, it is actually an ingredient in many commercially available bread flours… such as King Arthur. Unless you are milling your own flour or buying artisanal flour, you are probably using this already. I used KA flour for a very long time before I realized this. A very little diastatic malt powder (i.e., a few grams) goes a very long way and there is no way that I am aware of to know how much is being added by KA and others.

As for the other “improvers,” they range from mostly gluten (to help with low gluten flours) to actually using baking soda/powder to “improve” your bread. Not to mention the use of chemicals improvers that are typically used for commercial white sandwich bread (which is really more of a combination of flour, water, and chemicals that is whipped and then baked). I would try to avoid these. If you want to see the ingredients, look them up at Amazon (which usually shows ingredients) rather than the King Arthur website (which does not).

As for a sourdough starter, the easiest I have found was to use organic dark rye flour from Bob’s Red Mill. Just add mineral water (no chlorine/florine, etc.) and follow standard procedures. It was easier to start than most commercial sourdough starters that I have purchased. No joke.

I’m slow, I forgot to look back at this comment. Here is the basic info on bread spice for Rye Breads with the flavor of German style rye breads.
“Have you baked it yourself bread and were then disappointed, because the result doesn’t match up fresh bread from the bakers and rather bland tastes? Perhaps the right spice is missing your recipe! Finished bread contains typically one and a half to two percent (based on the amount of flour) salt. Because most of today but already much more than recommended five or six grams of salt a day to take and too much salt such as coronary heart disease and vascular diseases people favors, you should reduce the amount of salt in the bread better. Try a homemade bread spice mix for a rich, full flavor but instead! You can buy readybread spice. However, many mixes contain salt, flavour enhancers and fillers. It is very easy to put together your own mix with a personal touch!”
Basic recipe for bread spice that I use is:
10g Caraway
6g Anise
6g Fennel
2g Coriander
Mix together and grind to a fine consistency.
For a 1000g loaf add about 15g of bread spice.
Note: the spices are all adjustable for Personal taste along with the amount you add to each loaf, depending on whether you prefer strong or rather mild bread.

Of course, you can buy ready-made ground spices and mix together. For a stronger flavor, it is but better, to acquire them as whole grains and even freshly grind. So you go ahead: Mix all spices. Using a spice grinder or a cleaned coffee grinder grind. (Store) as an empty jar in an airtight vessel.