How to analyze the new crop flour

by Theresa Cogswell
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Arrival of a new wheat crop brings on different emotions depending on whom you talk to or what your job function is in the baking or milling industries.

This year, purchasing agents are likely to be happy with the report at the time of this writing that the Kansas wheat crop harvest was up 40% compared with the same time last year. Millers are also likely to be happy with test weight reports this year because plumper kernels make it easier to run the mill and improve extraction rates. Production managers, quality control teams and mixing operators responsible for producing consistent high-quality products know the 2012 hard winter wheat crop will likely be lower in protein, if history repeats itself. Higher yield typically means lower protein.

Over the years, the controversy between quality of protein and the quantity has created an excellent debate topic for millers and bakers. As the debate progresses and anticipation of new crop-change flour arriving in the bakery increases, the only way to settle the debate is to analyze, evaluate and test. That being said, what is the best way to evaluate the new crop flour before it arrives in your bakery?

First of all, bakers should know the testing starts long before they hear about the transition to new crop. It starts the first day of harvest. A perfect job for a summer intern, the work begins when wheat samples are picked up at the field or at the local elevator. The new crop wheat samples — thousands of samples — are sent to a central lab and/or to the quality lab at the mill. Receiving the samples and their analytical results are critical in procuring quality wheat to supply the mill. The analytical results assist the grain merchandizers in identifying and purchasing the best quality wheat at the lowest possible price.

The wheat evaluation process is key. Test weight, moisture, protein, wheat ash, Falling Number and 1,000-kernel weight are important for quality analysis. But the data most important to the many different flour customers begin to take shape when the wheat samples hit the experimental mills. There, testing begins on the actual flour. Moisture, protein and ash are standard tests done on all samples.

Most bakers are familiar with Farinograph analysis and use the many different components of the Farinogram to determine if a certain flour quality is theoretically and technically a good fit. Some bakers focus on absorption and stability, while others will key in on the mixing tolerance index (MTI).

Even with all of the testing, at the end of the day, the best analysis method is still the bake test. Whether you are making tortillas, hearth bread or pan bread, you truly will only know if the flour is a good fit for your product when you evaluate it in a bake test. Does the flour have mixing tolerance your process needs? Did you evaluate the fermentation time for your sponge-and-dough process? Have you run a mixing and absorption series?

If your goal is to make the best product for the lowest cost, it is critically important to adapt the new flour crop to your process and bakery. It is the rare occurrence when you just “drop in” the new crop flour without processing adjustments. Do the analyses, and then test the time and temperature components in the bakery to ensure your homework has been done as you move into new crop. And if you’re having quality problems, remember the saying, “Garbage out of the mixing room; garbage out of the bakery.”

Good luck and happy baking!   

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