The word for bread in Egyptian Arabic is “aish,” which translates literally as “life.” This linguistic coincidence reflects the supreme importance of bread in the Egyptian diet: aish is the “number one” food, and a constituent of every meal.
Moreover, the subject of bread always has a political dimension in this North African country. As the most important staple food it has been subsidized by the government for decades. In the past, any planned reductions of the subsidies or changes to the system have resulted in massive protests by the public, time and again.
Because of the low price of bread, its per capita consumption in Egypt is extremely high: between 150 and 180 kilograms annually for each consumer. Market experts forecast that the percentage will increase still further as a result of the current economic situation. Since Egypt’s central bank abandoned the currency peg of the Egyptian pound to the U.S. dollar in November 2016 in order to meet the conditions for an IMF loan, the country has been faced with massive difficulties. The national currency immediately lost about half of its value, and as a result the price of all imported goods rose drastically. This included basic foods such as rice, noodles and edible oils. Bread, on the other hand, remained affordable for even the poorest sections of the population.
Biggest wheat importer
Domestic wheat production is by no means sufficient to cover the demand for flour. Egypt is the world’s biggest importer of wheat. According to estimates by the International Grains Council (IGC), Egypt’s wheat imports in the economic year 2016-17 will be around 11.4 million tonnes. The transactions are regulated by the government procurement authority GASC. By far the most important trading partner is Russia, followed by Romania, the Ukraine and France.
The Egyptian market is dominated by two types of bread. As in all countries with an Arab culture, the frontrunner is flat bread (aish baladi); but fino, a small baguette-shaped loaf without an incision, is extremely popular with consumers, too. The characteristic feature of this yeast-leavened bread is its fine-textured, fluffy crumb, a high specific volume and a slight buttery-sweet taste.
Bread is usually produced in small, artisan bakeries; industrial production is still the exception in Egypt.
Challenges of fino bread
From the baker’s point of view, the low salt content of the fino recipe is a challenge. No more than 0.5% salt is added to the dough, a quantity that barely achieves the dough-stabilizing effect of sodium chloride.
To strengthen the gluten network and thus enhance the baking performance of the dough and its fermentation tolerance, many mills use flour improvers. If the flour quality presents a real problem, it is possible to improve the dough stability and baked volume by adding calcium peroxide (e.g. Calco 75), but as a rule the mills draw on enzyme-based agents to optimize their flours.
Mühlenchemie carried out thorough tests with fino to document the effect of different enzyme treatments on the quality of the products.
Production of the bread was based on the following recipe (Table 1) and method of preparation (Table 2).
The results of the baking trials clearly demonstrated the connection between product quality and flour treatment. The basic treatment of the reference flour consisted only of ascorbic acid, α-amylase and hemicellulase. In this case the loaves remained comparatively small; the crumb was irregular and the crust pale and without sheen. A gradual increase of the ascorbic acid content and the addition of further enzymes noticeably improved the volume, the consistency of the crumb and the appearance of the crust.
The optimum baking result was achieved with an integrated compound containing glucose oxidase and a carboxyl esterase in addition to ascorbic acid, α-amylase and hemicellulase (see photo above).
Fino bread problems, solutions
The baking tests performed at Mühlenchemie’s trial bakery are only one example of successful flour treatment. In individual cases, it is always the situation on-site that is crucial. Besides the rheological parameters and baking properties of the flour used, this includes financial aspects and the qualification of the personnel, the machinery and equipment available at the bakery and the climatic conditions. For example, doughs are more inclined to collapse in a hot, humid environment than in cooler, dry rooms.
In each case, flour treatment requires an individual analysis of the overall conditions.
Nevertheless, the following overview may indicate possible approaches to solving problems in the production of fino bread.
Problem: Deforming of the molded dough pieces. The baked loaves have no “narrow base.”
Cause: Weak flour; mistakes in processing, such as long-standing times or over-fermentation.
Solution: Strengthen the gluten network with glucose oxidase (e.g. Alphamalt Gloxy 14080); this improves final proofing and maintains the shape of the loaves.
Problem: Dough is too taut, springs back, has little elasticity. Loaves do not keep their shape.
Cause: High protein content of the flour; gluten quality too strong.
Solution: Relax the dough with cysteine (e.g. EMCEsoft P10). This substance reduces the tendency of the dough to spring back. Soften the gluten-pentosan network with hemicellulase (e.g. Alphamalt HC 13045).
Problem: Poor dough stability; doughs tend to collapse during final proofing.
Cause: Weak flour.
Solution: Add an enzymatic emulsifier booster (e.g. Alphamalt EFX Swift) to increase fermentation stability and the baked volume. Moreover, lipases create a finer texture, enhance the elasticity of the crumb and result in a soft, woolly crumb structure.
Problem: Sticky doughs.
Cause: Low salt content of the recipe.
Solution: Add glucose oxidase (e.g. Alphamalt Gloxy 14080) or ascorbic acid (ELCO C-100) to compensate for the inadequate baking effect of NaCl.
Problem: Crust is uneven in color; dull, pale, and without sheen.
Cause: Too little enzymatic activity, or too little starch damage to the flour.
Solution: Either add glucoamylase (e.g. Alphamalt GA 23750) to promote the breakdown of starch into glucose and thus enhance browning, or use a bacterial amylase (e.g. Alphamalt F 18101) that results in a moister surface of the dough and better distribution of the dissolved sugars.