The growth rates for pasta products in Ethiopia are steadily increasing. But the country’s milling industry has very little access to imported durum wheat qualities; it generally uses bread wheat for grinding into pasta flour. Innovative enzymes make it possible to adjust the functionality of these flours to the requirements of pasta production.

Pasta is a global export hit from Italy and has established itself firmly in Ethiopian’s kitchen, too. Spaghetti and macaroni are popular staple foods in this country, with the largest population in East Africa. They are served with typical local ragouts as well as tomato or Bolognese sauce. The Ethiopian cuisine is strongly influenced by ethnic tastes. Its dominant features are vegetarian dishes with red lentils, chickpeas, white cabbage, spinach or okra. These are typically spiced with berbere, a hot mixture of chili, ginger, coriander, pimento, cinnamon, garlic and cloves.

The popularity of pasta is a culinary legacy of the 1930s, when the territory then called Abyssinia was occupied by Italy. The favorite food of the Italian troops gradually found favor with the local population and became a welcome alternative to couscous, rice or injera, a soft, fermented flat bread made from teff flour.

In recent years, increasing urbanization has given further impetus to the pasta boom. New lifestyles and family patterns are replacing traditional eating habits; there is a demand for convenience products that are quick and easy to prepare and permit wide diversity.

Most Ethiopians shop daily at local markets, where the traders offer short cuts such as penne or fusilli from large sacks. Spaghetti, which breaks easily, is available as a packaged product at food stores. Pasta is looked upon as a rapidly growing segment of the Ethiopian food industry. Market experts estimate annual per capita consumption of about 5 kilos.

The country’s big mills have long since adjusted to this trend and invested in well-equipped pasta factories of their own. Nevertheless, pasta production remains a difficult task, since the industry must cope with structural problems.

Tight supply situation

One difficulty is the supply situation. Although Ethiopia has a long wheat growing tradition, the industry’s productivity is very low. Half of the small farms have less than a hectare to cultivate. There is a lack of machinery, fertilizers and irrigation systems.

Moreover, a poor infrastructure makes it difficult to market the grain. As a result, only a small proportion of the country’s overall production of some 4.5 million tonnes of wheat is used in the food industry; the farmers keep most of the crop on their farms for their own consumption, or as seed.

Despite this unsatisfactory situation, millers are unable to buy on the international markets since all wheat imports are regulated by the government. The competent body is the agency Ethiopian Grain Trade Enterprise, which imported approximately 1.7 million tonnes of wheat last year. But even this commitment is not enough to cover the needs of over 100 million people.

For the milling industry, the constant undersupply of grain has serious consequences as the capacity utilization of many Ethiopian mills is only between 20% and 30%. The grinding rollers of the Horn of Africa are regularly at a standstill.

Pasta chart

Problematical qualities

Yet another challenge is the quality of the raw materials. Home-grown wheat differs greatly in quality, since the farmers often cultivate traditional varieties instead of the conventional types. Although this practice makes a valuable contribution to preserving biodiversity, it makes it difficult for mills to maintain a standardized quality.

In the case of subsidized wheat imports, too, less attention is given to the grade than to the price. There is a government ruling that bakery products and flour must remain inexpensive basic foods that even the poorest sections of the population can afford. Quality aspects such as the protein content, falling number or sedimentation value play a subordinate role in procurement policy.

Bread flour for pasta production

The entrepreneurial scope of the Ethiopian mills is greatly limited by these massive restrictions. Consequently, most mills only produce a single type of flour — one that can be used for bread products, biscuits and pasta alike. Although durum wheat (Triticum durum), with its balanced protein and starch content and specific gluten properties, is the optimum wheat variety for pasta production, Ethiopian pasta factories generally must manage with conventional bread flour made from soft wheat (Triticum aestivum).

During processing, the protein content of these flours — which is often only around 10% — can have adverse effects on the machinability of the dough and the quality of the products. Due to the fine granulation, the flowability of the flour decreases in comparison to semolina.

Additionally, the weaker dough stability may lead to lump formation during the mixing process. In contrast to products made from hard wheat semolina, the cooked pasta tends to be sticky, has a lighter, greyish color, a softer bite and an uneven surface structure.

Pastazym as a quality booster

Millers and pasta makers who are not willing to accept such compromises can achieve an effective solution by using enzymatic flour improvers from the Pastazym range. These greatly improve both the processing properties of the dough and the quality of the finished products. Even small amounts of tailor-made enzymes and additives can compensate for quality deficits in the raw materials and result in more efficient pasta flours. The focus is on the quality parameters of firmness, stickiness, stability, cooking loss and color intensity.

Depending on requirements, the products of choice are enzymes with different specificity of action, carefully combined with emulsifiers, vital wheat gluten, natural colorants, ascorbic acid and further additives. These greatly strengthen the dough matrix and intensify the yellow color. To achieve optimum results from improvement of a pasta flour, the individual ingredients of the Pastazym must be carefully adjusted to the initial flour grade and the production method used.

The following overview offers a basic guide to common faults in the products and ways of solving them.

Problem: Insufficient firmness, high stickiness.

Possible cause: Low protein content, poor gluten quality.

Solution: Use suitable flour improvers to strengthen the protein network and greatly improve the performance of the flour and the texture and sensory properties of the cooked pasta.

Problem: Pale color, not yellow enough.

Possible cause: Not enough yellow pigments in the flour/semolina.

Solution: Use natural colorants in combination with vitamins to achieve a rich yellow color. The individual choice will depend on the food laws in force.

Problem: Cracks in the dry product; broken pieces.

Possible cause: Low protein content, weak gluten quality, faulty drying.

Solution: Adjust the drying process (time, temperature, humidity). Improve the cross-linking of the starch and protein fractions with suitable flour treatment, thus increasing the resistance of the dried products to mechanical stress.

Problem: Specks in the dried pasta.

Possible cause: High-extraction flour; high proportion of outer layers of the grain.

Solution: Reduce the level of extraction; brighten the flour with special enzymes.

Problem: Insufficient cooking tolerance; high cooking losses; cloudiness of the cooking water.

Possible cause: Weak dough structure; exudation of starch during cooking.

Solution: Increase cooking tolerance with enzyme compounds to improve the gluten structure and thus reduce starch exudation during cooking. Specific flour treatment can prevent intensive swelling of the starch grains even with extremely long cooking times.