ABUJA, NIGERIA — Pasta is one of Nigeria’s most important and popular staple foods. It often is produced from mixtures of hard and soft wheat or durum wheat. Enzyme-based flour improvement strategies enable mills to achieve consistently high product quality despite greatly varying wheat grades.
Pasta is celebrating an unprecedented triumph in the Nigerian market. Within just a few decades, Italian-style pasta has established itself as a favorite dish of many Nigerians. The growing urban middle-class, in particular, appreciates the taste and quick-and-easy preparation of pasta and often prefers spaghetti or macaroni to traditional foods such as rice, millet or garri, a cassava porridge.
This culinary preference is reflected in the sales figures. According to Statista, the per capita consumption of pasta in Nigeria currently averages 6.5 kg, and for the period 2022 to 2027 an annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.52% is predicted.
Recipes with a local touch
Country-specific tastes play an important role in preparation methods. The list is topped by Jollof Spaghetti, a substantial stir-fry with a spicy sauce made from tomato puree, onions, garlic, ginger, chili, nutmeg, curry powder and basil leaves.
The pasta often is accompanied by beef, chicken or goat meat marinated with peanut butter and paprika powder. In coastal areas, grilled gambas or fried catfish give the dish an extra kick.
Although spaghetti and macaroni are the most popular variants, supermarkets have yards of shelves with dried pasta in all manner of shapes, sizes and pack volumes. Pasta manufacturers tend to concentrate on the premium range, since it promises to create much greater added value.
A pack of spaghetti or penne is to be found in the food cupboard of practically every Nigerian household. But the vast majority of pasta products are used in the catering trade or in a communal setting rather than in the home. Restaurants, hospitals, orphanages, company or school canteens … pasta dishes are a feature of nearly all menus.
A further clientele is made up of the millions of commuters who are obliged to travel long distances every day to reach their place of work. In every Nigerian city, solid lines of cars, miles long, crawl into the central area every morning and back into the suburbs in the evenings. In the massive population center of Lagos, especially, the commuters are stuck in traffic jams for hours on end at peak times and are forced to satisfy their hunger as best they can — the easiest way being on the way home from the office or in the car.
Stress test for pasta
Countless little snack stalls and mobile street vendors have taken advantage of this demand and prepare pasta dishes of all kinds on improvised cooking facilities. More often than not, they have to contend with adverse conditions. Sometimes the electricity supply is cut off, or the gas bottle is empty, or the charcoal is too damp. And all these imponderables have a direct effect on the quality of the sensitive pasta products.
If the heat is too low and the pasta is left in the cooking water too long, it soon becomes mushy and loses its structure. And keeping the prepared food hot may also result in a sticky consistency.
Besides firmness, flavor, color and stickiness, good cooking stability is one of the most important quality parameters for Nigerian pasta.
Ban on imported pasta
The huge market is served by the big players of the Nigerian milling industry. The milling sector benefits from the ban on imported pasta imposed by the government in 2004 and has invested systematically in high-tech production plants of its own.
The raw materials used are hard and soft wheat (Triticum aestivum) and durum wheat (Triticum durum) from North America, Canada and other exporting countries. Generally speaking, durum wheat — with its high protein and low starch content and its ideal gluten properties — is the raw material of choice for making perfect “Pasta Italiana.”
Amber Durum gives the pasta a firm bite, a brilliant yellow color and high cooking tolerance.
Traditionally, spaghetti and macaroni originally were made solely from 100% durum wheat in Nigeria, too. But for reasons of economy and availability, it is now usual for manufacturers to combine a percentage of durum with varying amounts of bread wheat.
Raw material bottleneck
In recent years, it already has been a major challenge to the Nigerian mills to acquire wheat in sufficient quantities and suitable quality for pasta production. The present Ukraine conflict will aggravate this problem further.
Like many other importing countries, Nigeria will have to adjust to changed availabilities and prices, and in some cases resort to new varieties, countries of origin and quality classes.
But reorganization of this kind must not be at the expense of quality, since neither the trade nor consumers would be willing to accept compromises in the end products.
If a high percentage of low-protein wheat lots is used, the mills must compensate for possible deficiencies in performance by ensuring optimal interaction between the recipe and their production plant.
In this connection, enzyme-based flour treatment plays a key role. Mühlenchemie, for many years, has developed innovative enzyme compounds for standardizing and optimizing pasta flours. This is achieved with tailor-made enzyme systems permitting specific adjustment of the structure of the pasta dough and the texture of the dried goods.
For example, the complex active ingredients are selected to produce a smoother, more homogeneous surface, greater cooking tolerance or better firmness of the pasta.
With a combination of enzymes and colorants it is also possible to influence the intensity of the color. Mühlenchemie’s range contains only high-quality, natural colorants. These have excellent stability and neither fade nor leach out into the cooking water.
But innovative flour treatment concepts optimize the production process as well as the quality of the goods. For example, enzymes can regulate water absorption during preparation of the dough and noticeably improve its machinability.
Moreover, the use of selected enzymes can be seen to increase the mechanical strength of the pasta products. This enables manufacturers to reduce the percentage of rejects and ultimately cut their costs.
Problems and solutions
Which enzymes and additives are the best choice in a particular case? Mühlenchemie answers this question by conducting extensive analyses of raw materials and carrying out multi-stage tests on its pilot pasta plant. But the following overview of the most common faults in products and the problems that occur in the production process may serve as an initial guide to the highly diverse effects of enzymes.
Problem: Cracks in the dried product; broken pieces.
Possible cause: Low protein content; weak gluten quality; unsuitable drying program.
Solution: Adjust the drying parameters (time, temperature, moisture). The emphasis here must be on optimizing the stabilization phase. Improve the cross-linking of the starch and protein fractions by adding Pastazym, thus increasing the resistance of the dried products to mechanical stress.
Problem: Shade of yellow too pale.
Possible cause: Proportion of natural beta carotenoids in the flour/semolina too low.
Solution: Add colorants or vitamins to achieve a rich yellow colour. The EMCEcolor range offers a wide choice of coordinated colors. The individual combination will depend on the specific food regulations in force and the requirements of a particular application.
Problem: Specks in the dried pasta.
Possible cause: The proportion of husks in the flour/semolina is too high.
Solution: Adjust the milling process; use selected enzymes to brighten the flour. Recommended product: Pastazym Super Flex.
Problem: Insufficient firmness; high stickiness.
Possible cause: Gluten content of the flour/semolina too low; inelastic gluten.
Solution: Strengthen the protein network with the aid of an enzyme compound from the new generation of the Pastazym range to boost the performance of the flour and enhance the texture and sensory properties of the cooked pasta.Sven Mattutat is a product manager with Mühlenchemie. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.