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A friend of a friend gave me some bread for a thank you present. But it tastes like detergent fragrance! Why does this happen? Is it safe to eat? I only use unscented products in my home. And in my opinion the bread is ruined.

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    If you don’t want to eat it, why does it matter if it’s safe to eat? – Sneftel Dec 23 '20 at 8:20
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One time I was making a focaccia and instead of spraying a water mist in the oven I accidentally sprayed kitchen cleaner in the very hot oven! This did not go well. I got a face full of super-heated kitchen cleaner and the bread smelled and tasted of chemicals so I had to throw it away.

I doubt very much that this is the case with your friend's bread though. Most likely the taste is from an ingredient in the bread that has a strong flavor. Spices like aniseed, fennel, cardamom, or herbs like lavender are very aromatic and add strong flavors as well which some would say are very chemical-like. Some people like this, some people do not and it's fair to say you are one of the latter. Those ingredients are safe to eat, just not to your taste.

A test of whether it is an ingredient or an actual cleaning product causing the smell and taste would be to pull a bit of the bread from the center and taste it in isolation. Take your sample to a different room away from the other bread to test it. If your sample tastes like detergent it's in the ingredients, if the smell and taste is only on the outside of the bread or close to the surface then it's likely actual chemicals.

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  • I suspect this is right. Lavender in particular is not always expected in food (though it can be very good), and associated with cleaning products. – Chris H Dec 23 '20 at 11:50
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While I agree with the other answer that it's flavoured with something you don't expect, the other possibility is that the bread was wrapped in a freshly laundered, strongly scented cloth. You may be particularly sensitive given that they prefer unscented products. That would affect the crust much more than the inside.

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A plausible reason is the oven being cleaned with a product not intended for that purpose. I once had somebody help me clean and using an all-purpose cleaner on the oven, and after that, for about 10 baking sessions, i could smell the fragrance during baking. I suspect that the smell may have stuck to the food too, although i didn't notice it after spending hours in the kitchen that was permeated by the same smell.

Another possibility is the bread being wrapped in a freshly washed towel right after baking.

The third, some cheaper cosmetics are perfumed with the same aldehydes used in detergents (chemically, you cannot make smells last without this kind of base, and the few ones that are cheap and safe are reused on different product families). If somebody kneaded the bread by hand after using hand cream, some traces can have gone in. I doubt that many people will notice such small amounts given how well it noises are adapted to these events, but you said you're not using them in your household, so you'll detect it easier.

No matter how it came there, if it is indeed detergent, it is not going to hurt you. Household products are intentionally formulated such that even a child chugging down a bottle doesn't get poisoned. Any adverse effects should be minimal, if they happen at all. Of course, this isn't an invitation to eat detergent on purpose, but if the bread had some traces of it, there isn't any reason to panic.

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  • Not all household cleaning products are that benign - bleach has bittering agents added but can still be harmful. Large quantities of detergents (which I don't believe the OP has) can cause vomiting without lasting harm, but trace quantities are of course possible after washing up, and don't cause problems – Chris H Dec 23 '20 at 12:24

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