Have you ever wondered what hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose was? In this article I’ll cover in plain english what is it, what it’s used for and whether it’s safe to eat.
Reading food labels is not one of my favourite occupations, but is a necessary evil as I bring up a coeliac child.
I’m shocked at the long list of ingredients every time I pick up an item from the supermarket.
So in a new blog series I am going to be asking ‘What On Earth Is…’ about many of the ingredients I see and don’t understand.
As many of you know, I try to bake all of my own gluten-free goods.
With a busy life and little time this isn’t always possible.
So what exactly are those odd sounding ingredients that I’m feeding my family?
What is hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose?
Hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose is a white, odourless, tasteless powder made chemically through the modification of cellulose.
Cellulose is a natural polymer – long chains or structures made up of many, many molecules strung together.
What is it used for?
It is used as a vegan alternative to gelatine in medicines and supplements; as a treatment for dry eye syndrome and as a gluten replacement in gluten-free bread.
In gluten-free bread it improves the elasticity, stability, volume and moisture retention.
This makes a loaf more akin to gluten containing bread (source: Study on effects of HPMC and CMC on the properties of gluten-free bread).
Is it safe to eat?
Hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose cannot be digested by humans and passes through the digestive system.
In the UK it was submitted by Dow (who manufacture HPMC for the global food market) for approval to the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes in November 2011.
It is now an EU and FDA-approved food additive and is considered non-toxic to humans.
It sounds great right?
And for gluten-free food manufacturers it must be a god send.
Softer bread, less holes, good colour, greater volume. Everything you want in bread!
However, a number of people have contacted me to say they cannot eat food that contains it.
I have also found a number of forums online where people have made the connection between bloating, wind and discomfort, to eating foods (or supplements) that contain it.
If you are on a gluten-free diet but still experiencing tummy discomfort then it might be worth checking whether this is in the food you are eating.
You might also like to join my gluten free diet course where I help explore ingredients that may be causing ongoing symptoms.
What else can hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose be called?
One particular manufacture (naming no names, but one of the big ones) lists it as E464 without the full name…it’s the same thing.
I haven’t found a single loaf of bread, roll or sandwich thin that doesn’t now contain this additive.
What’s the alternative?
For me, the answer is to bake as much as I can and to buy baked goods occasionally as treats.
If I can’t bake bread then Roo tends to have corn cakes for her lunch rather than bought bread.
The ingredients are simple so I know what she’s getting.
If I’ve inspired you to have a go at baking your own bread then check out one of my popular recipes here.
You’ll find my Facebook Live video of how to bake a gluten free (vegan) garlic and herb tear and share bread here.
You’ll also find a few other videos on Facebook of me showing you how to make my various bread recipes.
Finally, if you want to bake wholesome bread then use my flour blends.
They are made from 70% wholegrain flours and provide you with a source of protein and fibre.
You can buy them here.
And I’d love to hear from you if you think you have trouble with HPMC or if there are any particular ingredients that you’d like me to look into next.
And if you have trouble with gluten free baking then you need to read my article what is a gluten free flour blend? It explains what they are and why they are critical to your baking.