From seed to spaghetti

by Teresa Acklin
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Pasta processor describes quality characteristics required in durum wheat.

   Because of its high protein content, strong gluten and high milling value, Canadian Western amber durum wheat traditionally has contributed to high quality in the pasta processing industry. The semolina gained from amber durum is an ideal raw material for the production of pastas of excellent taste and color, with a negligible percentage of specks.

   The table on page 39 shows the standard quality parameters deemed important within the milling sector for amber durum.

   In recent years, these quality indexes have been dropping constantly. Analytic studies indicate although physical characteristics, such as grain color and ash content, are in keeping with typical specifications, rheologic parameters, such as protein content and gluten quantity and quality, are poor.

   Quality tests performed on wet gluten show that it is too extensible, or not tough enough, for use in the production of pastas. Results of the these quality tests are of great importance to processors because pasta quality is dependent on gluten quality and quantity.

   Gluten molecules are combined together into networks. The tighter and stronger these networks, the more they retain starch by “trapping” it during pasta-making.

   The decline in quality indexes results in severe disadvantages for processors. Therefore, demand is high for substantial quantities of raw material with high and constant technological properties.

   Depending on soil properties and climate, crops may vary in qualitative terms from year to year. Protein quality levels are determined by the genetic characteristics of each durum wheat type and are affected by soil type, climate and cultivation methods. The composition of gluten, on the other hand, is determined by the genetic map and is hardly affected by the environment.

   Accordingly, research programs intended to develop new breeds have concentrated primarily on improving genetic maps. An overall analysis of farming trends clearly shows that genetic improvement has played a fundamental role in boosting crops, particularly in boosting crop yields. As soon as the crops reached satisfactory yields, attention was focused on the quality of the output.

   In genetic research, it is important to clearly define quality gradings, to identify the genetic variability of the properties to be improved and to use suitable analysis. In all countries where durum wheat is grown — Italy, France, Spain, Greece, United States — genetic researchers have taken due note of industry requirements.

   Genetic research in Italy has been prioritized because of the need to plan and standardize crops intended for pasta processing, where demand for raw materials with high technologic quality is growing steadily. Technologic quality is the combined result of substantial protein and gluten contents and, above all, gluten quality in terms of color and toughness.

   In Italy, durum wheat varieties have undergone constant and substantial improvement. If producers shift varieties, additional programs to develop new breeds will gain momentum.

   Research so far has progressed at a brisk pace. Today, newly developed genetic and molecular techniques are making it possible to achieve objectives that were previously thought impossible.

   For instance, an important characteristic is color. Producers traditionally placed scant importance on color, but production of carefully selected breeds can meet the color requirements of an exacting market.

   The need for Italian producers to meet the requirements of the Italian processing sector might result in reducing import volumes. Interdisciplinary programs based on the cooperation of the private and public sectors, of research institutes and of the processing industry have been launched for this purpose.

   In addition, processing groups have entered into special agreements that guarantee the market absorption of certain recommended durum wheat breeds. The groups also have instituted a special top-quality award.

   In other European Community member states, Greece has made notable effort in the last few years to improve its grain quality, while Spain continues research on selecting breeds suited for the production of certified semolina types. French durum wheat quality has proved highly competitive, while also enabling producers to boost yields.

   Recent genetic research in North America has been directed toward quality improvement. An intensely colored North American breed with high quality gluten and substantial protein content is much sought-after in today's market.

   In conclusion, the need for processors to plan and standardize raw materials is responsible for the growing demand for crops with ever higher and standardized quality levels. Today, quality is the decisive factor and the driving element in the sector as a whole. Genetic improvement's underlying objective is the development of breeds affording top-quality crops.

Standard quality parameters, amber durum wheat for pasta processing

Test weight, kg/hl83-84
Weight 1,000 kernels, g43.40
Vitreous kernels, %85
Protein content, % (13.5% moisture basis)13-14
Protein content, % (dry matter basis)15-17
Ash content, %1.68
Gluten content, %13-14

   This article is adapted from a presentation by Enrico Ventresca, Italgrani, S.p.A., Naples, Italy, to the Grain Vision '93 conference sponsored by the Canadian Grain Commission in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.