Clearing up confusion: Long-awaiting law to know your sourdough from your whole wheat

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

The European Commission has approved a draft law to bring an outdated Royal Decree in line with modern standards. Pic: ©GettyImages/Milkos
The European Commission has approved a draft law to bring an outdated Royal Decree in line with modern standards. Pic: ©GettyImages/Milkos

Related tags Bread European commission Law Rulemaking Standard

The European Commission has approved a draft Royal Decree to bring Spain's legislation for bread into line with today’s market demands and trends.

Earlier this year, Spain’s Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Environment proposed a review of the current Royal Decree, or Bill of Law number 1137 of May 23, 1984, for the quality standard for bread and speciality bread products​ was published more than three decades ago.

The standard ensures fair competition among operators, which, in turn, helps improve competitiveness within the sector. This obviously stimulates innovation and the development of new products. Consumers, too, are given a fairer deal with more information to facilitate their choice of purchase.

However, there have been numerous amendments to health regulations for bread – and especially speciality bread products – since 1984, not to mention enormous advances in manufacturing technology and marketing practices.

The draft Decree – released by the EC in Spanish (the English version will be available on the EC’s website on June 26) includes definitions for speciality bread products, like wholemeal and sourdough, that have grown in popularity.

Muddying the sourdough process?

Sourdough bread has neither been defined nor included in past regulations, which has allowed producers to label products as ‘sourdough’ although some may not have been made following traditional methods.

The Real Bread Campaign has been crusading for almost a decade to only allow breads made following the authentic sourdough process can be labelled as such in the UK.

That is, using only a sourdough starter, not inactive dried powdered yeast; no processing aids or artificial additives, including most flour improvers, dough conditioners and preservatives; nor souring agents like vinegar and yogurt.

“While the details and definitions of the proposed ​Spanish Proyecto de Real Decreto por el que se aprueba la norma de calidad para el pan y panes especiales are not necessarily the same as those the Real Bread Campaign would like to see in the UK, it is very much the type of legislation we continue to urge the government here to introduce,”​ the consumer watchdog’s Chris Young told BakeryandSnacks.

The new draft law states sourdough bread must be made following the artisanal processing method: using a ‘mother mass’ that is equal to or greater than 15% of the total weight of the dough, and a preparation that takes more than 15 hours without interruption.

However, the draft document does allow for a sourdough starter as well as a baker’s yeast. Furthermore, it states that, when the bread-making process leaves the dough to rise at a temperature of more than 4°C for at least eight hours before baking, the term ‘long fermentation’ may be included on the label, while, if the fermentation is carried out using a mother mass, the term ‘with a long fermentation sourdough’ can be used.

“We have been calling for such an Honest Crust Act since 2009. It would require full labelling of all ingredients and artificial additives (including so-called processing aids) for all loaves (included those sold unwrapped or prepacked for direct sale), and legal definitions for bakery marketing terms including artisan, sourdough, heritage, wholegrain and fresh,” ​said Young.

“We launch the next step of our campaign for an Honest Crust Act next week.”

The whole truth

Similarly, Spanish law defines wholemeal bread must be made with wholemeal flour, but does not specify what the minimum percentage of wholemeal flour versus other flour should be.

Wholemeal flour, too, is defined as the end result of ground cereal grains, but does not state what percentage of wholegrain should be present in that flour.

This has created a legal loophole that has allowed bread and bread products to be legitimately labelled as ‘made with 100% wholemeal flour’, when in practice, the amount of wholemeal flour was negligible.

The draft of the new law states that bread will be either labelled as ‘100% wholemeal bread’ or simply ‘wholemeal bread’ only if it is made exclusively with wholemeal flour. Where processed or refined flour, malted flour or standard white flour is used, the bread must be labelled as ‘made with xx% wholemeal flour.’ Alternatively, the description can be changed to reflect the name of the cereal or edible seeds from which the flour is derived.

Toast, biscote and others

Additionally, the law covers:

  • Vienna bread, Snow bread or sweet bread defines bread made from a soft dough made from wheat flour, sugar, milk, fats or oils.
  • Toast is bread that is sliced, toasted and packaged after cooking.
  • Biscote is a bread made with flour exclusively from a cereal other than wheat. The description ‘bread of’ can be used proceeding the name or the cereal or seeds contained in the product, when the following percentages mixed with wheat flour is adhered to:
    • % greater than 50% for wheat spelt, rye, triticale or Tritordeum
    • % greater than or equal to 20% for flours of oats, barley, maize, rice, sorghum, teff, quinoa or buckwheat
  • Multicereal bread is defined as a bread made with three or more flours, of which two, making no less than 30% of the total mixture, come from cereals; and the remainder – at a minimum of 10% each – in the form of semolina, groats or whole grains.
  • The words ‘wood bread’ or ‘wood-oven bread’ may only be used for breads cooked entirely in an oven that uses firewood as fuel.

Opening dialogue

According to Maud Noyon, spokesperson for the Commission, the Spanish draft law was notified on June 15, 2018 in the framework of a directive (the Single Market Transparency Directive, Directive 2015/1535) that provides the Commission and other Member States with the opportunity to react to draft technical regulations, and to open a constructive dialogue with the aim to ensure the smooth functioning of the Internal Market.

"Starting from the date of the notification, a three-month standstill period comes into place, during which the notifying Member State must refrain from adopting the technical regulation in question,"​ she told Bakeryand Snacks.

Where the Commission or Member States decide to react, this may take the following form:

  • Comments, which are sent when the notified draft text raises issues of interpretation or calls for details of the arrangements for its implementation. Member States are not obliged to reply to comments; or
  • A detailed opinion, which is sent when it is considered that the draft technical regulation may create obstacles to the free movement of goods, the freedom to provide Information Society services or the freedom of establishment of Information Society services operators within the internal market. The adoption of a detailed opinion extends the standstill period with additional three months.

The standstill period ends on September 17, 2018. For more information, clickhere​.

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