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Wonder bread, Chex Mix, Swanson dinners and other bread-based products all have one ingredients in common, potassium bromate. If you scroll through some of your favorite bread products you’ll find that most nutrition labels list this controversial ingredient. However, some consumers may not pay attention to it because potassium is linked to the term, and that’s a good thing, right? You may want to start looking closely for this ingredient and check your pantry for products that label it. Here’s why:
What exactly is potassium bromate? We’ll break it down. Potassium is a chemical element that most people are very familiar with. We need potassium for brain and nerve function, osmotic balance, and to maintain electrolyte balance. It’s naturally occurring in a variety of foods such as bananas, avocados, potatoes, pistachios, and other fish, nuts, herbs, and produce.

The component that plagues this controversial ingredient is “bromate.” Bromate is any oxyanion, which in other terms means the chemical element Bromine is bonded to an oxygen atom. Bromine is a halogen element on the periodic table, and thus highly reactive and potentially lethal to biological organisms in certain quantities.
When food scientists combined potassium with bromate, they found they created a compound that strengthens flour and helps bread puff up during baking. Also, breads containing this ingredient will have a much longer shelf-life. In most cases, the compound is used up entirely during the baking process, and won’t cause any harm if consumed. However, there are some cases in which there are residual amounts of potassium bromate remaining, and could potentially cause harmful effects to humans.
Research has shown that potassium bromate causes thyroid and kidney tumors in rats, and has been labeled “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Many countries such as Canada, China, Peru, Brazil, Sri Lanka, and the European Union have banned potassium bromate as a food additive. However, the United States has not yet banned this additive. Instead, they ask bakers to voluntarily stop using this ingredient. California has enforced a law that requires all products with this ingredient be labeled with a cancer warning.
Until the FDA banishes it, you should remain on the lookout.