How fermentation can help bakeries prevent food waste

Food Spark talks to Roberts Bakery about the challenges with surplus baking, why fermentation is a real weapon in their armoury and why colour is a main hurdle with waste

24 March 2020
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waste bread
image credit: BryanAlberstat/Getty Images

According to artisan bakery Gail’s, the UK throws away around 24 million slices of bread every day, equating to 278 slices wasted every single second, with the prevention of food waste having become an industry-wide focus over the past year. And it is now of even greater importance with the global coronavirus crisis.

Gail’s made the headlines back in 2018 with the release of what they claimed was the UK’s first loaf made from leftover bread, with the ‘Waste Bread’ launch spawning a range of products made with leftovers, including waste-less sourdough made from yesterday’s surplus bread, cheddar cheese crackers topped with off-cuts from Quicke’s nature-clothbound cheddar and Soho buns made using off-cuts of croissant dough.

Earlier this month, Gail’s announced plans to expand the range by 25 products by the end of the year, with a hot cross bun bacon buttie among the additions.

Cheshire bakery Roberts, meanwhile, has also started along the reusing route by making all of its hot cross buns this Easter with leftover white loaves.

The imperfect loaves which don’t quite make the grade for sale would normally be used for animal feed, but the company saw an opportunity to use fermentation to get more value out of them.

Roberts Ultimate Hot Cross Buns
image credit: Roberts Bakery

“We’ve been playing around with fermentation for a while as it’s a really good way of deploying waste,” says Roberts innovation director Alison Ordonez.

“Making a ferment out of a waste product really adds to the flavour in the finished product.”

Colour considerations

Ordonez says the main limitation with reusing bakery products is in the colour of the end product.

She explains: “Partly the reason we use white bread in the hot cross buns is there’s a lot of it (as it’s what we make the most of), but also it’s the best colour: when you crumb a loaf you crumb the crust and the middle and that colour then is coming through into the loaf.

“The discolouration that’s created by using this white bread ferment is minimal, and in a hot cross bun you’re not looking for a really white slice anyway because the fruit and spices are already causing the crumb to be slightly coloured.

“So what you need to think about when reusing a product is the colour impact and is that acceptable.”

She also wouldn’t advise making a ferment from a brown bread loaf as the flavour would be too dominant, while a seeded loaf could also prove problematic.

“You wouldn’t want to put a seeded product into a product that’s not going to have seeds in in the end, so you’re looking for alignment of the waste product and what you want out of it,” adds Ordonez.

With sales of the hot cross buns going well, Roberts is now looking into making other products by using fermented waste ingredients.

“We definitely will do more – we love using fermentation as it’s a great way of getting more flavour into bread and reducing the need to add salt as well,” says Ordonez.

“We’re certainly thinking about where we could partner up with other businesses so we’re not just using leftover bread but possibly other things like beer or coffee by-products.”

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