A Brief look at Azodicarbonamide or ‘The Yoga Mat Chemical’ and food.
Azodicarbonamide (ADA) is a chemical substance that the FDA has approved for use in bread baking. ADA is used as a fast-acting oxidant for bread dough, making it easier for gluten to develop, which in turn improves the dough’s machinability.
Azodicarbonamide is chemically synthesized by condensing hydrazine sulfate with urea under high temperature and pressure, and then it is oxidized with sodium hypochlorite. It is also called ‘the yoga mat chemical’ because it is used in the production of plastic and rubber products like yoga mats and flip-flops. ADA makes plastic softer, with more flexibility and stretch.
So why are you eating it? The FDA approved the use of ADA as a food additive in cereal flour and as a dough conditioner based on a comprehensive review of safety studies, including multi-year feeding studies, the latest of which was conducted in 2016. ADA is allowed in food products in Canada too, but Australia and a lot of European Union countries have banned its use in food altogether.
According to a report by the Environmental Working Group (based in Washington D.C), ADA has flown relatively under the radar in our food system thus far because it is not considered toxic by the FDA – as long as it’s used in concentrations below 45 parts per million. The World Health Organization’s chemical assessment report on ADA expresses concern about the effects on bakery food workers who handle large volumes of the chemical, and who have reported respiratory symptoms and skin reactions.
Up to date, there hasn’t been extensive testing to investigate ADA’s health effects so the future with regards to health issues is largely unknown. ADA, like all ingredients intentionally added to food, is required to be listed on the ingredient label of all products it is used in. If you are reading the nutritional information of the packaged foods you’re buying (and you should be), you can identify ADA by looking for “azodicarbonamide” on the label.