People love baked goods. However, the business of baking in conformity with organic standards is fraught with challenges. The cost and sourcing of ingredients, addressing specific benefits, and some baking processes themselves have made formulating within these restrictions all the more difficult.

Cost of ingredients could be considered the primary challenge, especially since sourcing organic ingredients has become much easier than it was in years past. Organic ingredients still typically, and sometimes substantially, cost more than do their conventionally produced counterparts. “The prices for all ingredients can be very high,” affirms Andrea Bayne, owner and head baker of BoriMami Bakery in Melbourne, Florida. “Demand for organic products exceeds supply, which can cause price increases and make consistent sourcing an issue.”

Although a recent survey by the Axios information group, based on research by DataWeave (an “AI-powered digital shelf analytics and commerce intelligence system”) found that the price gap between organic and conventional foods is narrowing, the difference is still significant. For example, prices for organic produce average approximately 15% higher than prices for conventional produce.

For bakers, the impacts of cost are more immediate. While organic commodity prices fell for the first time in 2021, the difference between the cost of organic versus conventional grains is much greater, ranging from 25% more to as high as more than twice the cost, based on data published this spring by the market research group OrganicBiz. 

At the Source

Although more and more farmers are switching to or adding organic crops to their planting line-up, the price differential still makes sourcing a challenge. “My biggest issue is the amount of organic flour I can get cost-effectively,” stresses Kirstie Stock, owner of Wake and Bake Bread Co. in Merritt Island, Florida. “I don’t always have access to the best suppliers, and so it can be a logistical challenge for me to get enough organic flour, which also increases the price substantially.”

Although sources for organic ingredients continue to expand, many US farmers of conventional crops are reluctant to convert because they fear big revenue effects. But their fears are unfounded. Due to advances in technology and agricultural science, American farmers grow by far the most organic products per acre yield. For the top 10 food commodities, U.S. farms produce five times more per acre than the average worldwide per-acreage yield.

This has helped grow the market for staples such as organic flour. According to its “Organic Flour Market Report 2024,” The Business Research Co. predicts sales of organic flour to pass the $3 billion mark this year, on a CAGR of 5.1%. The group expects a similar rate of growth to bring total organic flour sales to $3.74 billion in 2028. The good news gets better: In the April 2024 issue of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, the Insights e-newsletter reported that the USDA has announced $40.5 million in grant awards to support the processing and promotion of domestic organic products.

The List

According to Organic Voices, a non-profit organization that “highlights the benefits of organic food” and educates consumers about “the benefits of organic food, GMO labeling and related issues,” whenever the healthfulness of organic food is debated, there are suggestions that organic standards aren’t sufficient and are actually declining. There also is controversy over a list of allegedly non-organic ingredients that are used in certified organic foods.

A list of “gray area” ingredients does exist, established and regulated by the USDA. This “National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances” for organic foods was created to give the organic industry some flexibility while still complying with strict regulations that protect the health of the environment and consumers.

Unlike the artificial flavors, stabilizers, colors, and other additives present in many processed and packaged foods, the USDA list only allows constituents that are deemed necessary to the development or handling of an organic food product. They also must not pose a danger to human health or the environment. More importantly, such ingredients can only land on the list if there are no organic equivalents or replacements that could be used instead.

Other ingredients permitted are necessary for producing certain organic products that cannot be derived or processed organically. These include ingredients such as baking soda, yeast, oxygen, carbon dioxide, dairy cultures, certain vitamins and minerals, natural flavors, and natural waxes. The latter two can be natural—that is, non-synthetic—but from a source that cannot be classified as organic, such as a mineral or animal byproduct. Moreover, these substances may not make up more than 5% of the product.

The National List was created in 2002, and organic standards have grown even stricter. Since 2008, only six synthetic ingredients have joined the list, and 44 have been taken off, declined, or further restricted. Today, 127 non-organic substances can be included in organic food as long as they meet the USDA standards. This is a mere fraction of the 10,000 or so non-organic food ingredients used in processing.

Bread to Bake

With so many key ingredients in bread baking being different in organic vs. conventional bread products, it’s a given that the baking process must be altered for organic bread. For example, if bakers can’t use chemical dough conditioners and strengtheners, they don’t have the leeway to put a lot of pressure on the dough. However, on the plus side, aged flour and increased fermentation time will result in less stress on the dough system, yielding something more pliable for bakers to develop.

Bulk organic flour is simple to use and works well with sponge formulations and bread dough formulations. Heat-treated flour has more functional proteins, while rapid-hydration technology can yield a colder dough that requires few or no dough conditioners.

The ovens used in industrial bread baking also can pose problems. Whether they’re designed for organic products or not, a common problem with industrial ovens is an imprecision of balance in the appliance itself that can lead to uneven baking or overbaking. Overbaking dries out foods, especially those with a shorter shelf life such as bread and other risen baked goods. That’s a “deal-breaker” when it comes to organic baking. 

Thermal profiling is a process used to show what’s happening to the product throughout the entire baking process. It can calculate what parameters of time and temperature need to be altered in each part of the oven to reach ideal targets, i.e., the “crumb set zone.” This is, roughly, the point in time and temperature when the dough becomes bread.

A Clean Bake

In an environment like a bakery—warm and humid, not to mention “yeasty”—mold spores and bacteria proliferate. Even though mold and most other microbes are killed during baking, they can redevelop in the same environment after baking, especially with human contact.

Pathogens can be a significant hazard for organic production lines. According to bakers, one commonly overlooked culprit is the proof box. A specific schedule of daily maintenance for this critical component should be instituted, wherein it is scrubbed, disinfected, and dried thoroughly.

According to the USDA, “Organic food handlers are not restricted to using only organic detergents, cleaners, and soaps in their facilities. The criteria for whether these items can be used in an organic facility are not based on whether they are organic. The requirement is simply to prevent contact with organic food.”

However, some organic bakeries strive to avoid depending on chemical-heavy cleaners and sanitizers to maintain a spotless bakery. Stipulating certain conditions will help thwart mold and bacteria growth. These include maintaining the ambient temperature below 30°C/86°F and the humidity below 60%. The products must have reached an internal temperature to be 35°C or 95°F before packaging and, of course, should be handled with gloves.

Flour-reclaimer cleaning systems do need to be purified for organic baking. In addition, if a baking facility produces both organic and non-organic products, it is necessary to separate the storage, baking, cooling, and production areas for the two product types. This not only keeps pathogens and contaminated surfaces separated; it also means there is no chance of non-organic materials being mixed into organic ingredients.

Organic baking isn’t only about the bakery item itself–it’s the entire baking process, from farm to store. Although it can involve extra steps, ingredients, and equipment, with noted cost differences compared to conventional baking, bakeries transitioning to organic can see it as an opportunity to upgrade their techniques and equipment. And, of course, it’s an opportunity to jump on board a trend that offers plenty of room for growth, innovation, and success.

With more than 25 years of experience in food and beverage journalism, Jill Beaverson has made culinary and food product development her special area of coverage. She has written for Fancy Food magazine and Specialty Food magazine, among others, and represented foodservice companies, vineyards, the California Artisan Cheese Guild, and Microsoft. Ms. Beaverson’s journalism degree is from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She can be reached at

Green Sugar

Domestic shortages of organic versions of vital commodities drive bakers and their suppliers to importation, which also can translate to higher ingredient prices. For example, organic cane sugar is often imported from Brazil. While this could lead to a not-so-sweet situation if, despite being grown organically, the sugar is not grown responsibly with respect to deforestation concerns, one Brazilian sugarcane producer has been pioneering “green” cane harvesting.

“The Natíve Green Cane Project in the state of São Paulo developed a mechanical method of harvesting that eliminates the toxic burning, builds healthy soil, and increases biodiversity,” says Ken Roseboro, editor and publisher of The Organic & Non-GMO Report. “The technology not only harvests the cane stalks, it composts the leaves to protect and fertilize the fields, supporting the soil’s bacteria and fungi and both ensuring and adding to soil health.” According to Roseboro, even the specialized trucks operating in the cane fields use wide tires at very low pressure to avoid compacting the soil.

Roseboro further explains that this process aerates and boosts the moisture levels in the soil nearly to that of the native forests, and three times that of conventional cane fields. Research by the University of São Paulo revealed that soils under the Green Cane project actually exhibit greater biodiversity than soils in the Brazilian state’s national parks.

The Natíve Green Cane Project also transitioned nearly 50,000 acres to organic, becoming certified in 1996 as one of the world’s largest organic farming projects and producing one-fifth of the world’s organic sugar. “The Natíve project’s sugarcane is not only regenerative organic but, being more resistant to drought and pests, it also produces yields 20% greater than conventional sugarcane production,” adds Roseboro.

The project’s commitment to expanding biodiversity goes beyond sugarcane fields: From its onset in 1987, it planted 2.6 million trees, creating 11,400 acres of “biodiversity islands.” Today, these farms boast 340 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, including 49 endangered species. The project completely revolutionized the sugarcane industry, and its green harvesting methods are now standard practice—so much so that 97% of all sugarcane grown in São Paulo state is farmed this way. Moreover, the practice has spread to other sugar-producing countries.

“This long record of success proves that at-scale regenerative organic agriculture of many commodity crops is not only achievable but can be done using the same amount of land—and requiring fewer resources—as conventional agriculture,” Roseboro concludes.

Organic Sales on the Up and Up

In 2004, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) reported US sales of organic food and beverages totaled just under $4 billion. By 2014, sales grew nearly tenfold to more than $35 billion. That figure almost doubled to well above $60 billion by this year, and demand is projected to nearly double again—to more than $100 billion—by the end of next year. Even though growth in the total food and beverage market is relatively stable, organic demand has increased healthily in both total consumption and sales.

Don’t Bug Me

According to Dennis Patton, M.S., a county horticulture agent for the Kansas State Research and Extension service, organically produced crops may not be pesticide-free. Organic farmers must use pesticides, and the products they can use are determined by whether they qualify as “natural.” In some cases, spraying for insects on organically produced crops might occur numerous times, with several different approved pesticides.