Various intriguing applications and industries use carbon dioxide, yet one that may often be overlooked is CO2's influence in baking.
Is CO2 Important in Baking?
Non-bakers may not realize that besides ingredients like flour, sugar and eggs another common ingredient is baking soda, baking powder, or in the case of bread, yeast. These "magic ingredients" work with the other ingredients to release carbon dioxide (CO2).
For example, when leavening agents such as baker's yeast or baking soda are added to bread dough, they release CO2 which forms bubbles to give the dough the perfect consistency and structure for it to rise. CO2 creates the light and fluffy texture in baked goods by filling the batter with pockets of gas as it bakes.
Carbon dioxide also happens to be one of the major gases responsible for leavening in baking. In cakes, it comes from the reaction of sodium bicarbonate under acidic conditions. That's why for thousands of years bread has been made with only flour, yeast and water (skip the yeast and you have unleavened bread).
What's more is that the added CO2 further results in the scrumptious bakery breads we gather today such as rye, brioche, sourdough and even that delicious holiday cornbread.
Bakeries use carbon dioxide all the time, especially in the final proofing stage before baking (resting to increase the volume of the bread). In a closed area with hundreds of loaves of bread, this can cause the CO2 levels to rise to potentially dangerous levels. This is why a large, artisan bread company in Minneapolis recently began using our CO2 Storage Safety Alarm to protect their employees from high levels of CO2 in enclosed bread rising rooms.
Fun Fact: One of a baker's goals is to increase the volume of the bread to make it more "airy" and tasty. A loaf of bread will nearly double in volume, which you can see by looking at the holes in bread caused by CO2 bubbles.
During the proofing process, when CO2 is produced it begins to apply pressure which makes the dough rise. If the bread is not allowed to expand enough it may rise in the oven. If it is allowed to expand for too long, it may be "over-proofed" and deflate the dough.
Alcohol Also Helps Bread Rise
In addition to carbon dioxide, alcohol can play a significant role in making some breads rise. While most people think that carbon dioxide makes bread rise and alcohol changes the flavor, this is not entirely true.
When yeast breaks down glucose it transforms it into carbon dioxide and ethanol. Both byproducts are formed in equal parts. So for every glucose molecule, two molecules of carbon dioxide and two molecules of ethanol are formed. While at room temperature, the alcohol is liquid. When the bread hits the oven, the alcohol begins to evaporate, transforming into gas bubbles that contribute to the rise of the bread.
What Foods Use Carbon Dioxide?
While carbon dioxide serves incredibly useful in baking, it is used across the entire food industry.
- CO2 gives your favorite soda and beer the sensational fizz of carbonation.
- CO2 is used in drying to extend fruit and vegetables’ shelf-life
- CO2 as dry ice is used for goods refrigeration in transit
- CO2 is even used to euthanize animals before slaughter
CO2 gas is obtained from a wide range of sources, but it is generally recovered from industrial off-gases with varying degrees of purity. Much of it is produced in synthesis gas plants such as ammonia or hydrogen production, in breweries through the fermentation process, or, to a lesser level, combustion of fossil fuels such as natural gas.
Overall, many of the main foods you come in contact with have already been introduced to CO2 such as:
- Livestock (Pigs, Chickens, Turkeys, Cows)
- Dairy (Ice Cream, Milk, Eggs, Cheese)
- Carbonated Drinks (Soda, Juices, Ciders, Lagers)
- Packaged Foods (Meats, Cheeses, Fruits, Vegetables)
Is Carbon Dioxide Safe in Food?
As we have learned, many of our most common food and beverages use carbon dioxide, but does this come with any risks?
Carbon dioxide might seem harmless at first glance. After all, we exhale it with every breath, and plants need it for survival. Yet, the presence of carbon dioxide itself is not necessarily a problem, but it is the volume in any given environment that can rise to dangerous levels.
The fact that carbon dioxide is colorless and odorless makes it dangerous at high levels.
Since carbon dioxide is heavier than air, it also displaces oxygen. At high concentrations this will cause asphyxiation. In the event of a release, it’s easy to succumb to exposure, especially in a confined space like a tank or a cellar.
Early symptoms of being exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide include dizziness, headaches, confusion, and loss of consciousness.
Because of these severe negative health effects, many accidents and fatalities do occur in the food and beverage industry from carbon dioxide releases.
Without proper detection methods in place, everyone at a facility could be at risk. This is fairly common when one person shows symptoms of high carbon dioxide exposure and nearby workers attempt to help, only to become victims as well.
Many bakeries, restaurants, and beverage industries working around CO2 use the Remote CO2 Storage Safety 3 Alarm to provide employees with the ability to visibly measure the CO2 levels and trigger an exhaust fan should CO2 levels increase to a harmful level.
A Bloomberg study stated, "The equivalent of half a kilogram of carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere for every loaf of bread produced in the UK".
This is just one safety example of CO2 in regards to the baking industry and why use of a CO2 safety monitor to can provide safety solutions to those in and around this invisible, deadly gas.
Aside from just implementation of CO2 in bread baking, another application which involves CO2 in bakeries is the cryogenic freezing of baked goods. In order to freeze a product for preservation, many industries in the baking fields use liquid nitrogen or CO2 as a freezing agent.
According to Baking Business, "Bakeries freeze raw, par-baked and fully-baked foods to extend shelf life, retain moisture and flavor, and increase distribution capabilities."
Whether you are preserving baked goods with nitrogen or looking to gain the perfect appearance and volume in bread making with CO2 - the gases are all commonly used and safety solutions are available.
The team at CO2Meter is proud to have the opportunity to provide technologies and protect customers and workers near stored inert gases such as carbon dioxide, or even nitrogen in cryogenic applications.
Overall, be mindful this holiday when you are baking and having loved ones over to celebrate. Even though you may not see, smell, or taste the inert gases - they are there.
For more information on improving your indoor air quality read our latest article, 5 Tips to Monitoring Indoor Air.