MONTREAL — After 27 years as director of research at Lallemand Baking, Jan van Eijk retired earlier this year. Mr. van Eijk is best known for several enzyme and yeast patents that changed the way the baking industry approached dough packaging and shelf life. These patents are among those that have enabled the baking industry to embrace the clean label movement.
“We wanted to be the first to use the Clean Label solution,” said Kees Docter, retired senior manager of technical services at Lallemand Baking and longtime colleague of Mr. van Eijk. “We saw it coming, and we wanted to be first, and with our experience making bread in Europe, we knew we could do it.”
Mr. van Eijk began his career in the baking industry in 1984 at Gist Brocades, based in the Netherlands. Mr. van Eijk joined Lallemand when it acquired Gist Brocades. Europe had already eliminated bromate from use in bakery formulations, and when he and Mr. van Eijk moved to the United States and saw the movement gain momentum in California, Mr. van Eijk has adapted enzyme ingredients used in Europe for use in North America. , while Mr. Docter set out to change the hearts and minds of the American baking industry.
“Labelling has become a problem; people were shocked to read all these chemical terms on their bread labels,” Docter explained. “But with enzymes, it’s just enzymes, which are naturally present. Jan is the scientist in this area.
As Mr. van Eijk discovered more enzymes and wrote more patents, he developed a reputation and others sought out his expertise. Keith Forneck, technical product manager at Lallemand, explains that he sought a position at Lallemand to work directly with Mr. van Eijk and learn from him.
“He was my oracle,” Mr. Forneck said. “I wanted to work with Jan as a mentor and bridge my own professional gaps and work with an industry leader. I worked at Kraft for 26 years and wrote my own patents based on Jan’s foundational work .
One of Mr. van Eijk’s most important patents was for maltogenic amylase, which allows bakers to preserve the softness of their bread for longer while respecting the label. As Mr. Forneck explained, before this patent, enzymes were aggressive. What made maltogenic amylase revolutionary was that it was non-harsh yet effective. And its efficiency has had impacts not only on the finished product and waste reduction, but also on bakery operations.
“Now bakers are able to get 21-day shelf life warehouse distribution,” Forneck said. “Now you can have fewer changes. You can do one production cycle per week and expand your distribution.
Kevin Krause, senior vice president and special advisor for bio-ingredients, Lallemand, explained it this way: “You don’t need bakeries 90 miles apart anymore. You didn’t have to stock the shelves as often, and the trucks made fewer trips, and you had less bread coming back or getting thrown away or going to the thrift store.
Mr. Krause credits Mr. van Eijk’s wit and the way he was able to balance both chemistry and the practical application of baking at the same time.
“I haven’t come across anyone else in my 40 years in baking science as good as Jan at this stuff,” he said. “Most bakers don’t know or care about science and most scientists don’t appreciate how complex baking is.”
According to Mr. Krause, Mr. van Eijk, who was a scientist by trade, was in the bakery lab every day evaluating the finished loaves. This dedication to both the science and the art of baking gave Mr. van Eijk an edge and a deeper understanding of how his enzyme technology could help bakers.
“It was that combination of technical acumen, practical experience and discipline,” he said. “He ran a bakery lab that brought together good science with the complications of baking.”
If that wasn’t enough, Mr. van Eijk was also renowned for his kindness and generosity with the knowledge he acquired.
“He was able to break down the science with clients in a way they could understand,” Forneck recalls. “We would meet every week for lunch, and he would just share his wisdom and knowledge. He would give it to anyone.
Mr. van Eijk leaves the baking industry with a patent still pending, an artificial enzyme that is more effective against staling than his breakthrough maltogenic amylase.
“I think it’s funny that he started and ended his career with contributions in the same field,” Mr. Krause said.
And after decades of revolutionizing the baking industry, what would Mr. van Eijk pass on to the next generation?
“Pastry is really both an art and a science,” he said. “Progress in the baking industry requires interdisciplinary cooperation between these two different worlds. Many things that are important in making good bread are also important in life: patience, time, knowledge, experience, creativity and attention to detail.