Egypt’s pasta segment is a lucrative, expanding market. The appetite for pasta on the part of consumers has increased appreciably since the government introduced measures to promote wheat growing and the sale of local pasta products. Even Egypt’s national dish, koshari, needs pasta as an ingredient.
Pasta or rice? In answer to this question, the choice in Egypt now falls more often on pasta. Although rice is still the basis of many traditional dishes, there has been an increasing trend toward pasta in recent years. The annual per capita consumption of pasta now averages around seven kilos.
There are several reasons why pasta is no longer a minor player in Egypt’s culinary tradition and has now achieved a major role. One reason is that in 2017 the Ministry of Agriculture limited the acreage permitted for rice growing and thus promoted the cultivation of plants requiring less irrigation, such as wheat. At the same time the state encouraged the sale of pasta by granting consumers with a low income a discount of around 25% on domestic pasta products under the subsidized “smart card.”
And not least, the pasta boom is the result of lifestyle changes and a greater demand for convenience products. The young urban population, in particular, appreciates the fact that penne, fusilli and spaghetti are tasty and filling and can be combined with all manner of different sauces and side dishes without the need for elaborate preparation and cooking.
A national dish based on pasta
In the Land of the Nile, pasta generally is cooked and served according to independent recipes typical of a particular region. The unchallenged favorite is the national dish “koshari” (or kushary), in which Arabian, European and Indian influences can be traced. The basic ingredients of this vegetarian speciality are pasta (vermicelli and/or macaroni), rice and lentils, served with an aromatic, spicy tomato sauce, a dash of garlic vinegar and a topping of chickpeas and fried onions. Since cooking the dish in one’s own kitchen involves elaborate preparation with numerous pots and pans, koshari usually is eaten outside the home. In the street, in the marketplace, the bazar or the shopping mall, countless cookshops, food stalls and restaurants satisfy the enormous demand for this classic example of street food.
A further “must” on the Egyptian menu is “macarona bechamel,” a baked dish rather like Italian lasagne. But instead of thin sheets of dough it is made with pre-cooked penne, baked as a creamy casserole with thick layers of minced beef and bechamel sauce.
For many Egyptians, price is the most important factor influencing their choice of pasta. The most price-sensitive consumers like to meet their needs with low-priced, loose “short cuts” from a 50-kilo bag at the food shop around the corner, whereas those who attach importance to a wide range of products and brands prefer to buy from a supermarket or hypermarket.
In the restaurant trade, prices sometimes have narrow profit margins. Although Egyptians enjoy eating out, they expect large portions for little money, especially from street vendors.
Local pasta manufacturers serve this market with a wide range of products in the low-price segment. For koshari pasta especially, many factories use soft wheat flour (Triticum aestivum), although durum (Triticum durum) would be the better alternative because of its higher protein content and specific gluten properties.
These overall economic conditions also affect the business orientation of the Egyptian milling industry. Some of the mills concentrate on producing a single type of flour that is suitable for both baking and pasta production. The starting materials are usually domestic wheat lots combined with imports from the Black Sea region, the United States or Australia.
The requirements for this universal flour are complex. Whereas bread baking is largely a matter of crust, crumb and freshness, the focus of pasta production is on aspects such as stickiness, cooking tolerance and firmness. Moreover, the specific requirements of the various pasta dishes must be taken into account. For koshari, for example, little elbow pasta or thin vermicelli are used; these are usually pre-cooked and heated up again before serving. To prevent such pasta from sticking together, it must have very high cooking stability and firmness. Macarona bechamel, on the other hand, requires hollow, tube-type pasta that keeps its characteristic round shape and must not become soggy despite the high sauce content of the recipe.
Color is an important quality criterion, too. In Egypt it is common practice to mix soft wheat flour with riboflavin or other colorants to give the pasta a rich, yellow color. On the other hand, it would not be acceptable to consumers for the water-soluble additives to leach out into the water during cooking, resulting in visible discoloration. So, the colorant must be permanently integrated into the dough matrix.
A quality boost for pasta flour
It is essential for the Egyptian milling industry to meet these challenges. To respond successfully to the increasing demands of the market, more mills are making use of the advantages offered by enzymatic flour treatment. Mühlenchemie is an acknowledged specialist in this field, and with Pastazym it offers a variable system of active ingredients that make it possible to compensate efficiently and cost-effectively for the deficiencies of soft wheat flour in connection with pasta. To enable a specific response to the different quality requirements of the market, Mühlenchemie offers improvers for both the low-price pasta sector and premium products. The toolbox is based on specific enzymes that can be complemented with emulsifiers, colorants and other additives as necessary. Whether for enzymatic basic treatment, to permit clean label declaration or for the premium segment — the Pastazym range has an upgrading solution to meet every individual need. For highly price-sensitive pasta products, KosharyZym, consisting mainly of selected oxidizing agents and colorants, may be a further interesting option.
For pasta manufacturers that only wish to influence the color of the pasta, the use of EMCEcolor may be an economical alternative. This product line contains a wide choice of water-soluble and fat-soluble colorants with differing intensity and functionality.
To achieve optimum results in the process of improving a particular flour, the individual ingredients should be adjusted precisely to the starting material and the production plant used. The following overview is therefore only intended as an initial list of common faults in products and suggestions for tried-and-tested solutions.
Problem: Insufficient firmness, high stickiness.
Possible cause: Low protein content, poor gluten quality.
Solution: Use suitable pasta improvers like Pastazym or KosharyZym 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 one of the EMCEcolor improvers that combine natural colorants 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 Pastazym Pro Nature, 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 pasta with Pastazym Super Flex.
Problem: Insufficient cooking tolerance; high cooking losses; cloudiness of the cooking water.
Possible cause: Weak dough structure; loss of starch during cooking.
Solution: Increase cooking tolerance with Pastazym Duo Pure to improve the gluten structure and thus reduce starch losses during cooking. Pastazym Duo Pure can prevent intensive swelling of the starch grains even with extremely long cooking times.