The main goal of millers is, as in every business, to make a profit but at the same time provide bakers with a uniform, consistent, standard flour to meet their requirements. Often millers and bakers complain to each other about flour quality. This stems from the fact that there is no one correct type of flour. Therefore, dialog between miller and baker has mutual benefits to produce and obtain the desired type of flour.
Each baker has different flour quality requirements. In some countries bread quality means calories, and the feeding property of flour is more important than its protein content or gluten strength. For bakers, quality generally means the ability to produce the best possible final product.
Good quality flour should produce many varieties of products and perform well in different processes, having the tolerance to variations in the production process such as an increase in production amount, more machinability, changes in ingredients, faster fermentation and baking. It should also be noted that artisanal, medium-size, and industrial bakeries require different flour quality properties.
Depending on the geographical location and consumer culture, an assortment of food products varies from region to region. While in Western countries, the most common wheat-based food is leavened pan bread. Nowadays this type of bread has become popular around the world, including breakfast cereals, cookie/biscuit, and cakes, and it is also an important ingredient of several processed foods.
Likewise, flatbread, which used to only be consumed in the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent, is today popular in other countries. Many varieties of noodles and steam bread are widely consumed not only in Asia but also in other countries.
Grain quality is a major problem for flour millers since the composition and properties of grain vary from year to year, from location to location, and from one cultivar to another.
Most importantly, the same raw material may be used to make different products.
Although there are endless quality parameters, to produce high-quality bread, wheat should have the following properties:
- A protein content consistent with the needs of the miller (usually at least 11.5% on a 13.5% moisture basis, 13% dry matter basis)
- Is hard rather than soft so the miller can easily achieve its target starch damage levels
- A desirable balance of gluten strength — strong enough to produce bold loaves of high-volume potential but not so strong as to give problems of long mixing requirement
- Potential to produce flours with water absorption consistent with the needs of the baker
- Is sound with no problems of excessive enzyme activity, and it will produce good bread over a wide range of processing conditions.
Equipment manufacturers’ role
To meet bakers’ requirements, millers need grain that is: clean; has a high test (hectoliter) weight; uniform class and type; uniform protein content; free from insects and toxins; and has the ability to easily separate the bran from the kernel and high flour yield.
They also need the right equipment and right sustainable milling process. At this point, a milling equipment manufacturer has its role in flour quality to satisfy millers and eventually bakers. Therefore, a strong relationship between equipment manufacturers, millers and bakers is of the utmost importance. The miller depends on the equipment manufacturer for not only the plant and the machinery, but also solutions for his individual requirements.
By means of equipment and process, millers can produce low-quality flour by using high-quality wheat or acceptable-quality flour by using standard-quality wheat. To aid in a miller’s success, equipment manufacturers should provide correct and high-quality equipment, proper flow sheets and parameters as well as necessary training. Most importantly, communication with the miller should not end with the sale of equipment but should continue as long as the equipment is being used.
In the grain supply chain, quality is considered only in relation with successive links — breeders serve farmers, millers serve bakers and bakers serve their customers.
Millers rarely communicate with breeders and farmers to discuss the quality of the crop. Bakers’ feedback is significant for the millers and growers because it gives them the confidence to grow wheat and to mill and market flour when they see that good bread can be made from their flour.
The flour trials present a better opportunity to facilitate baker-miller relationships and thus have a higher chance of turning into lasting, sourcing relationships. The flour trials are also an avenue for millers and bakers to get to know each other and develop a business relationship.
For sustainable business success, milling equipment manufacturers should also be included in this circle.
Milan Shah is technical director at Alapala, Inc. He may be reached at email@example.com.