flat bread
Flatbread is a staple food in Pakistan.
Photo courtesy of Mühlenchemie.
Pakistanis are among the world’s biggest customers for wheat products, with annual per capita consumption around 125 kilos. Traditional products such as roti, chapati and naan remain the most popular types of bread, but in the supermarket, shoppers increasingly put sandwich loaves, burger buns or pan bread in their baskets.

Few Pakistanis can imagine a day without any bread. Wheat is a staple food, and 80% of what is eaten is baked into flatbreads such as chapati, naan, paratha or poori. The popular flatbreads come in all kinds of varieties, made from wholemeal and superfine flour, leavened and unleavened, baked in a tandoor oven, fried in hot oil, cooked on a tava pan, stuffed, rolled, and folded.

Many Pakistanis start the day with a cup of tea and slightly puffy parathas. At midday they may eat lentils with roomali roti — paper-thin soft flatbread that is baked and then folded like a towel or handkerchief. And in the evening the family often will gather to enjoy freshly baked naan and spicy chicken Karahi.

A key issue is the use of raising agents. Whereas in Punjab and Sindh provinces, for example, bread doughs are usually prepared without yeast, in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa people prefer the greater volume and softer crumb of yeast-risen flatbreads.

Flatbreads and sandwich rolls

About 75% of all bakery products are produced by small street bakers. However, the industry is in the process of changing. Market studies published by Euromonitor International indicate there has been a marked shift in how people shop and what they eat. It would seem that “due to the spread of an urbanized and westernized life style,” consumers increasingly are inclined to buy packed, industrially produced products such as sandwich loaves, pan breads and rolls. A recent survey also reveals considerable demand for sweet baked goods and biscuits.

Pakistan has around 1,000 mills, most of which have adapted to the new trends and produce different types of flour for various specific uses. By and large, the mills grind wheat from domestic sources. With an annual total production of some 25 million tonnes and a requirement of 24 million tonnes, the country can supply its 190 million inhabitants from its own crops.

As a rule, three standard grades of flour are sold.

Atta, or chakki atta, is the most widespread and least expensive flour in Pakistan. It has a high extraction rate and traditional bakers and housewives use it to make chapatis. Up until the 1950s almost every home had its own small chakki mill containing two stone plates with which flour was freshly ground — and even now, atta often is ground in stone mills. Stone ground flour has one crucial advantage in that it is possible to significantly increase the proportion of damaged starch using this method. Compared with conventional flour, atta has up to 15% more broken grains of starch, which has a direct effect on its capacity for absorbing water, making the dough stickier and more elastic. This is particularly desirable if the bread is to be baked in a traditional tandoor oven. Otherwise, there is a risk that toward the end of their baking time, the flatbreads slip off the clay walls and fall into the embers.

Since most customers prefer light-colored bakery goods, it is quite usual in Pakistan to find that even wholemeal flours have been treated with bleaching agents.

Maida is a finely ground, light flour that is also termed an all-purpose flour. In comparison with wholemeal flour, maida needs to meet much more exacting requirements in terms of fermentation stability, machinability, water uptake and volume, since the baking industry uses it for sandwich loaves, free-form breads, buns or cakes. Maida is often bleached, too, and of the three standard flours it has the highest starch content (about 75%) and the lowest ash content (about 0.5%).

Sometimes there are problems with both the quality and quantity of the gluten. Since the composition of Pakistani wheat varies a great deal, local mills generally add ascorbic acid, enzymes and emulsifiers in order to standardize maida flour and improve its baking properties. Low levels of alpha and beta amylase are also drawbacks noted in local flours. In recent years the falling numbers for Pakistani flours were between 500 and 750 seconds (an optimum value is 300 to 380). This weak enzyme activity directly affects the pasting properties of the starch and how well the flour bakes. Undesired consequences may include a reduced volume, dry crumb and insufficient browning. Since maida is used, first and foremost, to produce loaves that require good volumes, such as sandwich and toast breads, Pakistani millers routinely add suitable ingredients to counteract the flour’s enzyme deficit. One common solution is to add fungal amylases such as Alphamalt VC 5000. This enzyme is heat-labile, though, so it is not possible to prove its efficacy by determining the falling number.

The “two-in-one” innovation “Deltamalt” developed by Mühlenchemie offers a new approach to fine-tuning both the falling number and the baking properties. This universal amylase compound effectively reduces the falling number and improves the products’ fermentation stability, baked volume, crust and browning.

Fine mostly is used to bake naan bread and is a flour with a medium extraction rate. The properties demanded of this flour are similar to atta. Aspects such as fermentation stability and oven rising play a subordinate role. Instead, the focus of attention is the color of the flour and the amount of water it absorbs.

To provide the flour and crumb color that the customers expect, mills often add bleaching agents to this grade of flour, too. One effective ingredient is Decolox. The active ingredient, benzoyl peroxide, has a double action. Not only does it bleach the slightly grey tinge of the flour, but it also strengthens the gluten network. Alternatives include ascorbic acid or emulsifiers, which create finer pores and thus make the crumb appear lighter in color.

Mills have a range of options for improving the amount of water taken up by the flour. Millers can mechanically influence the degree of starch break-down by altering the grinding parameters. Tweaking the raw materials can also serve to appreciably increase the capacity of doughs to bind water. In practice, this frequently means using EMCEbest WA – a highly effective compound of enzymes, hydrocolloids and plant fiber.

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Problems and Solutions

Irrespective of whether baked goods are made by hand or industrial machinery, time and again fluctuating flour qualities cause production problems for Pakistani businesses. Here is a short review of the most common difficulties in making flatbreads and sandwich loaves:

Problems when making flatbreads (roti, chapati, naan, poori)

Problem: Crumb not as white as consumers would prefer.

Possible cause: Use of wheat flours that have a creamy tinge because of the variety.

Solution: Treat the flour with benzoyl peroxide, e.g. Decolox, lipases, e.g. Alphamalt EFX Sky or enzyme active legume flour, e.g LENTInovo.

Problem: The flat loaves do not have the desired radius; doughs spring back or shrink.

Possible cause: High protein content of the flour; gluten quality too strong.

Solution: Promote relaxation of the dough with cysteine, e.g. EMCEsoft P10. Addition of this substance reduces shrinkage of the doughs.

Problem: Dough falls off the wall of the oven during baking.

Possible cause: Dough surface too dry, too little amylase activity.

Solution: Increase the amount of water; add amylase, e.g. Alphamalt VC 5000.

Problem: Dough dries too quickly; inadequate browning.

Possible cause: Enzymatic activity of the flour too low; amylase deficiency.

Solution: Add amylase, e.g. Alphamalt VC 5000, in order to stimulate the yeasts with the resulting sugars during fermentation and promote the Maillard reaction and browning.

Problems when making sandwich bread:

Problem: Impairment of freshness characteristics during storage; firm, inelastic crumb; dry and crumbly.

Possible cause: Rapid retrogradation of the starch.

Solution: Add emulsifiers like SSL or CSL. Enzymatic treatment with alpha-amylases or maltogenic amylases such as Alphamalt Fresh should be used if the crumb is to have a very long shelf-life.

Problem: The bread does not slice well; the crumb is gummy and sticks to the knife.

Possible cause: Too much starch is broken down during baking through over-activity of heat-stable enzymes or over-treatment. This reduces the water binding capacity of the crumb and makes it sticky.

Solution: The use of sponge dough or an acidifier lowers the pH and inhibits enzymatic activity. If applicable, treatment with enzymes must be reduced.

Problem: The bread can be squeezed together.

Possible cause: Insufficient stability.

Solution: The stability of the crumb can be improved by the four-pieces or twist method. In the four-pieces method, the dough portion is cut into four and put together again after turning each piece through 90 degrees. Replacing the pieces in this way gives the dough more stability.