Wheat quality and flour treatment are inseparably linked. The weaker the raw material, the more important it is to “upgrade” the flour with enzymes and other additives. With five research and development experts from the enzyme specialist Mühlenchemie, World Grain took a close look at the subject of flour treatment. It learned that even problem wheat mixtures can be balanced to produce optimum results, what is meant by enzyme designing and why even topographic criteria may play a role in the choice of suitable flour improvers.

World Grain: As a long-standing partner of the milling industry, Mühlenchemie is very familiar with its needs. Where do the biggest challenges lie at present?

Sven Mattutat: The prevailing topics in the industry are the availability of wheat, wheat prices and poor quality. Because of the price problem – which is bound up with the U.S. dollar, of course – mills buy very different lots indiscriminately on the international markets. They are starting to play around with all manner of different raw materials. But at the same time their customers are demanding more and more efficient flours. What that means, ultimately, is that the flours have to offer better performance from a weaker starting position. Naturally, that is a huge challenge to the mills.

David Nolte: That’s a trend in the raw materials sector that I can certainly confirm. In the milling laboratory we are noticing a growing demand for wheat from Germany, France, Russia and the Ukraine, for example, for mixing with other lots. But a soft European wheat just doesn’t have the same stability as an American hard wheat. French wheat, for instance, contains very little protein. That is no problem if you are just producing baguettes, but if this wheat is to be used for making flour for sandwich loaves, that is when the difficulties occur.

World Grain: How can you reconcile all these opposing requirements?

Nolte: First of all, it’s important to find the right ratio for the mixture. What percentage of the higher quality wheat can I replace with cheaper lots without loss of quality? Is the limit 70%:30%? Is it 60%:40%, or 50%:50%? These are crucial questions to which every mill must find the right answers.

World Grain: Those are not questions you can answer theoretically. They mean you have to carry out grinding and baking trials. And that interferes with the routine procedures at a mill.

Nolte: That’s right. Not every mill can find time to carry out complex grinding trials with new lots of wheat. For some time we have had a flexible automatic grinder that enables us to simulate industrial grinding as a service to our customers and carry out test runs on a laboratory scale.

World Grain: What is the procedure for such trials?

Nolte: Let’s take an example: a customer no longer wants to use exclusively Canadian CWRS. He wants to mix it with soft German wheat. Naturally that raises the question of quality in the baked goods. So the miller sends us two samples: one of his current wheat as a reference, the other for testing. We grind, analyze, mix and bake the raw materials until we reach the specified target. That is one of the applications for our grinder. But, of course, we use it for assessing wheat quality in general, too. For instance, we have a customer from Africa who orders his grain from overseas and has his dealer send us a sample from each purchase. The shipment usually takes two or three weeks, and we use that time to develop a suitable treatment for the flour. That saves the customer time, of course, and ensures a reliable production process.

Katja Runkel: The question of the right ratio for the mixture is the predominant issue in the pasta sector, too. At present there are great problems with the quality of Triticum durum. Countries like Morocco, Cameroon and Senegal mix as much as 70% soft French wheat with 30% hard wheat semolina. That saves an enormous amount of money, of course. But without appropriate enzymatic flour treatment, it wouldn’t be possible to substitute so much without a serious loss of quality.

World Grain: Enzymes as a universal panacea – is it really as easy as that?

Mattuat: It’s by no means easy, because today’s requirements are so complex that standard solutions and single ingredients no longer do the trick. Millers are faced with the challenge of doing the best they can with wheat mixtures of very different origins and qualities. Our whole team of experts has set itself the task of finding the ideal solution.

Anke Wollgast: Of course, the starting point is always a rheological analysis. Each flour is first tested in our laboratory for moisture, the Falling Number, its gluten and protein content and many other parameters. Not until we have a full picture of the properties of the initial flour can we develop a strategy for flour improvement.

World Grain: Many large mills now have very well equipped laboratories of their own that make them more and more independent. Does that apply to flour treatment, too?

Mattutat: That is a very welcome development. And with our training courses and workshops, we ourselves make a contribution to the transfer of knowledge. Nevertheless, the mills need capable partners — especially when it comes to optimizing raw materials. Because the pressure of innovation is increasing all the time, and the half-life of the products is getting shorter and shorter. The mills need tailor-made, high-end solutions.

Dr. Lutz Popper: That’s why we give so much attention to practical applications research. We use our laboratories, our pilot plant, our biotechnology and, of course, our manpower to create new knowledge. And we pass on this lead in practical knowledge to the international milling industry through our products.

World Grain: But these challenges to the mills differ enormously from one part of the world to another. How can a single company deal with such a diversity of problems?

Mattutat: By being represented around the globe. We have eight affiliates abroad, some of them with their own rheological laboratories and trial bakeries, and mixing equipment of their own, too. That means we are very familiar with the regional markets and local customs.

Popper: We also use this worldwide presence to test new products. For example, we recently developed a substitute for azodicarbonamide. We sent this compound to our foreign affiliates in Asia and also to Mexico for testing – and got quite divergent results. The effects were very different in the individual countries and products.

World Grain: Do you mean to say the efficacy of enzymes depends on the region in which they are used?

Popper: That is just one point. There are many factors involved in flour treatment that you don’t think of at first. The results can differ widely even within one and the same country. Take Mexico, for example. If you bake bolillos (the light-colored wheat rolls popular there), you get different results in Mexico City from those on the coast with the same flour. There is a difference of 2,300 meters in altitude, and therefore a difference in oxygen partial pressure. An oxidase may well have 20% less effect.

World Grain: So that doesn’t exactly make the choice of the right flour improver easier.

Popper: I’m certain that these and many other factors will have to be taken into account to a much greater extent in the future. What are the climatic conditions on the spot? What flours are there in the region? And what applications? How well are the employees trained? What is the technical equipment of the bakeries like? A spiral mixer yields different results from a dough breaker. All these aspects play a role in tailor-made flour treatment strategies. That is why we speak of “enzyme design.”

World Grain: So in future it will be a question of making precise adjustments to known, existing agents rather than using completely new enzymes?

Popper: Yes, exactly. That is the trend we are observing. It’s true that exciting new possibilities crop up again and again. At present, for example, we see interesting potential applications for glycolipases. But generally speaking, flour treatment will be a case of going into greater depth, of optimization and detailed work.

Runkel: I must contradict you there. With pasta products the situation is completely different. The application is still in its infancy. Many manufacturers don’t yet know that enzymes can be used. So we are often asked: “Enzymes? What do we want with them in our noodles?” But then, when we are on the spot and demonstrate to the customers how special pasta enzymes can improve the bite of the noodles and reduce their stickiness, they get a great surprise. The stickiness of the cooked noodles is an important topic, and the customers realize that enzymes offer a very simple way of enhancing the quality of their products.

World Grain: That has been common practice in baking for years. Will there come a time when ingredients like vital gluten, pre-gelatinized flour or ascorbic acid are supplemented or replaced by enzymes?

Popper: That is happening already, in some cases. We can imitate the effect of the emulsifiers in a number of ways. That is not restricted to the use of DATEM esters; it also applies to SSL and monoglycerides. And there we come to an aspect that has been given far too little attention in the past: enzymes have an excellent ecobalance. The amount used is only a fraction of the quantity of other additives needed. Compared with emulsifiers, the usage level of the corresponding enzymes is only one hundredth or even one thousandth.

In the case of ascorbic acid, it is one tenth. That means less of a burden on the environment even while the active agents are being produced, and it saves transportation, energy and storage costs. And enzymes can help to lower the energy requirement in the preparation of foods, too, for example, by reducing their viscosity or facilitating the breakdown of carbohydrates.

Wollgast: We recently had a concrete example of that in our rheological laboratory. A customer sent us a wafer flour that had a much too high water absorption rate of 61%.

Far too much water had to be added during preparation of the dough in order to achieve a fluid batter. But with wafers and biscuits, all the moisture you put in has to be taken out again later by evaporation.

So the baking process took quite a long time. But with a tiny amount of hemicellulase we were able to adjust the flour in such a way that the dough didn’t absorb so much water from the start and could be baked much faster. That is far more economical in terms of money and time, of course.

World Grain: A better ecobalance, less additives, lower storage costs – these are all important aspects, of course. But it is the bakers that benefit most by them. Where are the advantages for millers?

Popper: Ultimately it is always the downstream manufacturer who provides feedback on the products. In this case it’s up to the miller to tell his customers, “This flour is so efficient that you need less emulsifier, less vital gluten, less pre-gelatinized flour.” Millers must convince their customers of this additional benefit, this value-added, again and again. But in the end it is precisely these distinctive features that enable a mill to stand out from its competitors and create a stronger profile.

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Mühlenchemie’s team of experts participating in the interview:

• Dr. Lutz Popper, head of Research and Development

• Sven Mattutat, Trial Bakery/Technical Sales, head of the applications team for Africa

• David Nolte, head of the Milling Laboratory

• Anke Wollgast, Rheological Laboratory

• Katja Runkel, applications technologist, Pasta Laboratory