We previously discussed hydrocolloids in a prior post. In this new entry, we will cover some of their primary applications in the production of baked goods, such as breads, cakes, and others.

Wheat Breads

In bread making, hydrocolloids can assist in several ways. Firstly, they increase the water absorption of flours, allowing the dough to incorporate more water. Additionally, they improve dough stability during kneading, meaning the dough is less prone to over-kneading. Lastly, they also enhance stability during fermentation. Doughs containing hydrocolloids are more stable in the final stages of fermentation, preventing the collapse of loaves. To achieve these benefits, thickening hydrocolloids with high water absorption capacity, such as guar gum, xanthan gum, or locust bean gum, are typically used. The usage percentages are small, ranging from 0.5% to 2% based on baker’s percentage.

If we increase the amount of hydrocolloid, due to their water absorption and retention capacity, we can produce breads with lower caloric content (as they contain more moisture), longer shelf life (by retaining moisture), and higher fibre content (since hydrocolloids are nutritionally considered fibres). However, these breads will not be crispy, as the moisture retention of hydrocolloids prevents the formation of a dry, crispy crust, resulting in bread more similar to those made with oil. Choosing the correct hydrocolloid and its dosage is crucial for achieving quality bread in these cases. Some hydrocolloids create a more resilient structure that tends to recover its shape after deformation, while others have a less positive impact on final texture. In high quantities, hydrocolloids can also influence the bread’s flavour.

In small doses, hydrocolloids can help retain moisture in the final bread. This is useful in making sandwich loaves, where the hydrocolloid’s water retention capacity after heating is important. Using hydrocolloids to improve water retention and increase the juiciness of breads can be particularly beneficial in developing wholemeal breads or those with high bran content, as they help reduce the typical dryness of these products. This water retention capacity is also useful in making par-baked breads. After the initial baking, these breads create two distinct zones: an outer one with less moisture and an inner one with more. Following this phase, the moisture tends to equalise, moving from the inside to the outside, resulting in drier final breads. Including hydrocolloids can minimise this moisture migration, yielding less dry, more moist final loaves.

Gluten-Free Breads

The use of hydrocolloids is almost essential in gluten-free bread making. These products are often referred to as “gluten substitutes.” While they do not create cohesive and extensible doughs like those made with wheat flour, they facilitate dough expansion during fermentation and baking, resulting in higher volume breads. It’s important to note that no single hydrocolloid is optimal, and the best approach is to use mixtures of different hydrocolloids. A few years ago, xanthan gum was commonly used, producing moister and juicier breads, but not achieving good specific volume. Remember that one of the challenges in making gluten-free breads is their excessive dryness. Blends of guar gum and xanthan gum were also used, as they exhibit a synergistic effect. Nowadays, it is known that HPMC (hydroxypropyl methylcellulose) helps achieve better gas retention and dough expansion, leading to higher final volumes. However, this hydrocolloid produces drier breads with poorer texture, so it should be combined with others that have better water retention to create juicier and better-textured breads. Today, mixtures of HPMC and xanthan gum or psyllium are very common.

The use of hydrocolloids as “gluten substitutes” was discussed in a specific post on ingredients in gluten-free products.


In cake making, hydrocolloids can provide several beneficial effects. Firstly, the most evident effect is the extended shelf life due to better moisture retention. For this purpose, xanthan gum can be used, but other hydrocolloids with high water retention capacity can also be beneficial. Including thickening hydrocolloids can also help regulate the viscosity of batters. For proper retention of gases present in the initial batter and generated during baking, a certain viscosity is necessary—neither too high (to avoid reducing expansion) nor too low (to improve retention). Using these hydrocolloids helps increase viscosity if it is excessively low, which can occur in some special formulations, or provides a certain level of security. Hydrocolloids can also be used to increase the viscosity of batters with inclusions, such as chocolate chips, berries, or others. These inclusions, due to their higher density compared to the batter, tend to sink to the bottom during processing. By increasing the viscosity, this movement is minimised, and the inclusions can be better distributed throughout the final product.

An interesting use of hydrocolloids in making cake-type products is the replacement of fats or oils. One of the functionalities of oils in these products is to provide juiciness. This juiciness can also be achieved with higher moisture content, but for this, it is important to add more water to the initial batter and use a product to retain this moisture, which is the role of a hydrocolloid. However, we must not forget that in these products, the oil also helps stabilise air bubbles, increasing the final volume and fluffiness of cakes or muffins. Therefore, it can be beneficial to use mixtures of hydrocolloids (to retain moisture) with emulsifiers (to stabilise bubbles and improve volume). Based on our experience, up to two-thirds of the oil can be replaced without significant losses in product acceptability.

It is important to note that while hydrocolloids can help retain moisture, this moisture is still available to microorganisms. Therefore, final products with higher moisture content, such as breads or cakes, may be more susceptible to microbial attack, especially moulds. Thus, if developing products with high hydrocolloid content and higher final moisture, it is necessary to consider the need for preservatives, increasing their dose, or reducing shelf life. However, it should also be noted that products made with hydrocolloids can usually be preserved by freezing without issues.

In the production of foam-type cakes, where little or no oil (or fats) is used, or in making meringues, a small amount of hydrocolloids can also help improve air inclusion, batter stability, and reduce the typical syneresis of some meringues.

Creams and Fillings

Generally, fillings are divided into those with a fat base and those with a water base. In the latter, we need products that are easy to pump (not too viscous), but with a good final texture, reducing syneresis as much as possible (water migration from the filling to the dough). Starches and modified starches are commonly used to achieve these characteristics, but hydrocolloids can also help. In these cases, it is necessary to consider whether the fillings must withstand freezing or baking. For water-based creams or fillings, the high moisture content and corresponding microbiological risks must also be considered.

In some cases, not very common in Spain, there may be a need for a gelatinous, more brittle filling texture. For this purpose, pectins, agar, or alginates are used. However, if the product is to be pumped, the latter are recommended because the structure breaks down during pumping, and agar or alginates allow better regeneration of the structure. Nonetheless, different types of pectins also need to be evaluated for their suitability.

Fried Products

Frying processes involve an exchange between oil and water. The dough or product to be fried loses water, which is replaced by oil. Therefore, reducing water loss can also reduce oil absorption during frying. Thus, to achieve fried products, such as doughnuts, with lower oil content and fewer calories, hydrocolloids with high water retention capacity can be included in the dough. However, it’s important to remember that oil in the final product provides chewiness and mouthfeel, which may be lost if oil absorption is limited, affecting consumer acceptability.


Traditional flatbreads or tortillas made with wheat flour or nixtamalised maize flour must be able to retain water, as water migration is a significant issue. Both water migration from the centre to the exterior and from the product’s exterior pose problems. In fact, tortilla manufacturers have improved packaging and its ability to open and close more or less hermetically to prevent moisture loss. Among other factors, tortillas must remain flexible since most applications require them to be rolled. This flexibility is lost when they dry out. To avoid these issues, oil is often added, but water retention can also be improved with hydrocolloids. However, adding hydrocolloids can significantly increase dough viscosity, making it difficult to handle. To address this, water in the dough can be increased, or encapsulated hydrocolloids can be used, which do not absorb water during kneading but are released during baking, helping to retain moisture in the final product.

Glazes and Icing

Many pastry products feature sugary coatings. In some countries, high gloss is preferred (this is very important in Arab countries). In industrial production, it is crucial that the glaze does not lose water, as it would recondense inside the packaging, spoiling the appearance and obstructing the view of the product. It is also important that the glaze is not too brittle and does not break easily. Generally, these products are mixtures of sugar and water, more or less concentrated. To achieve the right texture and gloss, and to improve water retention and flexibility, using hydrocolloids is often beneficial. These hydrocolloids can also help minimise sugar recrystallisation by retaining water and preventing the formation of gritty textures. For these purposes, gelling hydrocolloids such as agar or carrageenans may be useful. However, to modify the product’s viscosity and thus regulate its thickness, some thickening hydrocolloids can also be beneficial.

Edible Films

In recent years, edible coatings or films have become fashionable. These can be made from various substances, one of which is hydrocolloids. These films serve to protect products from external elements or to separate different phases or parts of the same product. These products are not new; indeed, the glosses or glazes previously mentioned can be considered edible films. However, theory often differs from reality, and it must be considered that these films will influence consumer perception and may reduce product acceptability. An interesting application of these films is the separation of dough and filling in pizzas. An appropriate film can help separate these two components, minimising the transfer of liquids from the filling or topping to the dough, but it can melt and blend with the other ingredients during baking.

Leave a Reply

Discover more from Innograin

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading