Flat bread is KING in Kazakhstan

by Martina Mollenhauer
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The favorite staple food of Kazakhstan’s consumers is traditional flat bread baked in clay ovens. But because of its high protein content, domestic wheat is not ideal for bread of this kind. Strong, low-enzyme flour may result in firm doughs and poor browning. It is possible to compensate for these effects with flour improvers specially designed for flat bread production.

The Republic of Kazakhstan is one of the world’s chief wheat producers in terms of both quantity and quality. With temperatures of up to 45 degrees C in the summer and a bitter -30 degrees C in the winter, the climatic conditions in this Central Asian state are a challenge to wheat farming. Three-quarters of the country’s total production volume comes from the North Kazakhstan provinces of Kostanay and Aqmola, where top quality wheat with a protein content of around 15% is harvested in good years. In the southern part of the country, the figures are usually somewhat lower.

Since Kazakhstan has a population of only 17 million on an area of more than 2.7 million square kilometers, the country’s own demand is easily met. Large proportions of its exports go to Russia, its Central Asian neighbors, and also to Iran.

Flat bread popular

Bread plays a major role in the diet of the Kazakh population. Whereas pan bread is subsidized by the government and often produced industrially, the much more popular flat bread comes exclusively from artisan bakeries.

The daily per capita consumption of flat bread is about 400 grams. The bread is bought at one of the countless artisan bakeries, from a market stall or from a roadside trader. Even in large supermarkets there are mini-bakeries equipped with special ovens that can supply customers with fresh, fragrant flat bread all day long. Nan – or non, as it is sometimes called, depending on the region – is eaten at any time of the day and at every meal. The loaves are broken into rough pieces and often dipped into soups, sauces or stews.

Two standard flours produced

Kazakhstan’s mills produce two types of flour. The “highest type” is similar to the German type 405 and used for flat bread. The somewhat more highly extracted “first type,” with an ash content of about 0.55%, is used mainly for pan bread.

Whereas the high protein content of Kazakh wheat is an advantage for pan bread, it sometimes is a disadvantage in flat bread production. High-gluten doughs are firm, lack elasticity and spring back when rolled out. And since summers in Kazakhstan are generally hot and dry, an extremely low alpha-amylase content makes dough preparation difficult in such cases. Falling numbers of 500 seconds are not unusual (ideal values are 300 to 380 seconds). At the bakery, low-enzyme flours result in slower fermentation, a dry crumb and unsatisfactory browning.

Kazakh bakers traditionally try to compensate for deficits of this kind by adjusting the dough preparation process manually, but raw material-based solutions are becoming increasingly common in the milling industry. Flour improvers designed specifically for the production of flat bread increase the elasticity of the dough, enhance browning and simplify handling.

The following is a standard recipe:

• 100 kg flour (treated with ascorbic acid and enzymes, see below)

• 1.2 – 1.5 kg salt

• 1.2 – 1.5 kg yeast

• Approximately 50 kg water

• Addition of 1 kg sugar and 1-2 kg margarine, if preferred.

The doughs are comparatively firm, but with a resting time of about two hours and a further relaxation phase of another two hours after molding, they are malleable enough and easily shaped into flat loaves.

Bread stamps as business cards

From this simple recipe, Kazakh artisan bakers create real works of art. A characteristic feature of the circular loaves with their raised edges is the decoration and ornamentation pressed into the dough surface with a hand-made bread stamp. These bread stamps are the business card and pride of every bakery.

Another peculiarity is the shape of the loaf. Before the dough pieces are given their characteristic stamp, they are drawn over an inverted plate or pan base in order to create a perfectly circular appearance.

The loaves are baked in traditional clay ovens called tandr or tandyr. Fired with charcoal or gas, these ovens reach temperatures of up to 450 degrees C. The raw doughs adhere to the extremely hot inner surface and are removed with an iron rod after baking.

Problems, Solutions in NAN Production

A common problem in the production of nan is the high gluten and low enzyme content of the local flours. In wet summers, the bakeries sometimes have to contend with ropiness, too. This microbial contamination causes decomposition of the crumb and a sweetish “off” odor and taste.

After warm winters, the wheat may suffer from widespread bug damage, which makes the flour useless for the production of flat bread.

Moreover, some bakeries are interested in prolonging the shelf-life of the bread or extending their range with nan variants that have more volume and crumb, as is usual in Turkey, for example.

The following is an overview of the most common problems and challenges and possible ways of solving them:

Problem: The flat loaves do not have the desired radius; doughs spring back or shrink, decorative features do not keep their shape.

Possible cause: High protein content of the flour; gluten quality too strong.

Solution: Promote relaxation of the dough with cysteine, e.g. EMCEsoft P10. Addition of this substance reduces shrinkage of the doughs.

Problem: Dough falls off the wall of the oven during baking.

Possible cause: Dough surface too dry, too little amylase activity.

Solution: Increase the amount of water; add amylase, e.g. Alphamalt VC 5000.

Problem: Dough dries too quickly; inadequate browning.

Possible cause: Enzymatic activity of the flour too low; amylase deficiency.

Solution: Add amylase, e.g. Alphamalt VC 5000, in order to stimulate the yeasts with the resulting sugars during fermentation and promote the Maillard reaction and browning.

Problem: Poor dough stability.

Possible cause: Low salt content (typical of Kazakh flat bread).

Solution: Salt has the effect of stabilizing the dough. It is possible to compensate for a low salt content by adding glucose oxidase, e.g. Alphamalt Gloxy 5080 or Saltase.

Problem: Wish to increase the dough yield.

Possible cause: Operational considerations (increased profitability).

Solution: Full treatment of the flour, including ascorbic acid, e.g. with Alphamalt A 19560 or EMCEgluten Enhancer to increase water absorption.

Problem: Crumb not as white as consumers would prefer.

Possible cause: Use of wheat flours that have a creamy tinge because of the variety.

Solution: Treat the flour with lipases, e.g. Alphamalt LP 10066, that noticeably brighten the crumb.

Problem: Deformation of the gluten, slack doughs (index of gluten extensibility too high).

Possible cause: Infestation with cereal bugs that exude dough-degrading proteases into the wheat grains.

Solution: Inhibit the bug enzymes and stabilize the dough. The enzymes from the insects have to be inactivated by lowering the pH, and the stability and elasticity of the dough must be increased with enzyme systems (e.g. EMCEbest BugStop, a compound based on enzymes and organic acids).

Problem: Ropy crumb, bread has a sweetish off-taste.

Possible cause: Microbial contamination that may occur during transportation or storage in very hot, humid summer weather. The heat-resistant bacteria cause the crumb to decompose.

Solution: Add an acid/mineral complex with a buffer effect. Regulates the pH of the dough and thus inhibits the growth of the bacteria (e.g. EMCErope D).

Problem: The flat loaves are to have greater volume and a larger proportion of crumb.

Possible cause: Operational considerations (e.g. changes or additions to the range).

Solution: Add hemicellulases, e.g. Alphamalt HTE. Alternatively or additionally add lipases, e.g. Alphamalt EFX Mega.