DATEM is one of many chemicals found in most baked goods sold in stores. But what is it? And more importantly, how does it affect your health?

These days, most processed and pre-made foods contain so many preservatives and chemicals that it can feel overwhelming trying to understand them all. And today, more and more health-conscious consumers are seeking clean-label baked products.

But while the task of finding clean-label products is daunting, the short and long-term benefits to the health of you and your loved ones make the time investment well worth it.

What Is DATEM?

baker mashing dough

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DATEM stands for Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Monoglycerides. It is an emulsifier used in baking bread to strengthen the dough during processing. Plus, it helps improve the texture and increase volume in many products. It comes from plant-based sources, which makes it "natural," sort of.

However, even though it is classified as an emulsifier, the chemical functions at the air-water interface within flour lipids and gluten proteins to improve the gas-holding capacity of dough. This process provides a stronger dough that can then undergo processing in a high-stress system. Also, the process yields a higher crumb grain with higher bread volume.

DATEM mainly interacts with gluten proteins to make the dough stronger. Therefore, its use in gluten-free doughs is redundant.

Soybean oil is one example of a plant-based source used to make DATEM. They create it from reacting diacetyl tartaric anhydride with mono- and diglycerides.

Some of the benefits include:

  • Interacts with wheat gluten, strengthening its structure in the yeast-raised dough, and contributes to tolerance towards variation in flour quality
  • Increases dough elasticity, which results in better loaf-volume and oven-spring, contributing to greater tolerance towards process variation
  • Contributes partial gluten replacement
  • Enhances fat distribution, which results in smaller cells with a more uniform structure and smoother crumb texture
  • Manages to reduce fat usage (up to 20 percent) in biscuit formulas
  • Replaces Lecithin
  • Improve the volume of non-wheat flour inclusions

Is DATEM Bad for Your Health?

man kneading dough

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While the Federal Food and Drug Administration determined that it's safe for public consumption, some studies suggest that consumers should avoid it. These studies have linked this emulsifier to heart fibrosis and adrenal overgrowth in lab animals. And it may also increase the risk of developing "leaky gut syndrome."

One of the most alarming aspects of DATEM is that there's such little information about the effects the chemical can have long-term health in humans. Also, the exact process for creating it isn't clear, and most people have never heard of it. That said, it can constitute 0.375 to 0.5 percent of the weight of the flour used in commercial baking.

There also a few healthcare professionals who voice their concerns about this substance because of its ties to increased risk of intestinal permeability.

While the FDA still classifies it as "generally recognized as safe," many companies such as Whole Foods have blocked products containing the substance.

There's also evidence to suggest that people with reactions to certain processed foods, especially bread products, may find that chemicals such as DATEM are more to blame than gluten.

Other products that contain DATEM

bread and butter

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Bread isn't the only product that includes this emulsifier. Other products where it can be found:

  • Salad dressing
  • Energy bars
  • Butter
  • Nondairy creamer
  • Packaged or canned frosting
  • Soups
  • Biscuits
  • Salsa con queso
  • And ice cream


bread with butter spread

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Fortunately, there are a few healthy alternatives out there that manufacturers are using to replace DATEM in their bread production. These replacements include emulsifiers, wheat protein isolate, enzymes, and lipids.

Soy and lecithin-based emulsifiers can also replace DATEM. Some enzymes, naturally present in wheat flour and yeast, are also good alternatives. Enzymes such as xylanase, lipase, and phospholipase comprise of some of the most reliable enzyme-based replacements.

Companies can also replace it by adding lipids in the form of vegetable fat, animal, or glycerides such as glycerol monostearate. GMS is an ester that forms when glycerol reacts with stearic acid.

The role of these alternatives yields similar results that include strengthening of gluten, improved loaf volume, and dough extensibility, as well as finer crumb structure.

Once again, making healthier food choices isn't easy. But fortunately, people can free their bodies from the potential hazards chemicals can pose to their health.

We wish you the best of luck in your pursuit of a healthier lifestyle and remember to stay vigilant. Drop us a comment below if you use products that may contain this chemical, or if you have taken steps to become a healthier eater.

Featured Image via Pixabay