Test, then test again, when automating gluten-free doughs

by Laurie Gorton
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Having installed a good number of gluten-free lines, several equipment manufacturers can offer advice to bakers considering this category.

“Think ahead,” urged John McIsaac, vice-president of strategic business development for Reiser, Canton, Mass. Products in this category seem to change more quickly than standard baked foods.

“We have seen producers buy machinery that can only be used on one product type,” he said. “When their product mix changes, they need new equipment.”

Instead, he recommended seeking systems with modular design that eases modification.

The environment within the bakery is important as well.

“Wide swings in temperature are not good,” said Eric Riggle, vice-president, Rademaker USA, Hudson, Ohio. “The bakery must maintain a consistent environment.”

Upgrading plant conditions can be important, said Cesar Zelaya, bakery technology manager, Handtmann, Inc., Lake Forest, Ill.

“When planning for a new gluten-free production area or a brand-new facility, we recommend a climate-controlled environment that provides a more consistent makeup process for the dough,” he said.

And then there’s the testing needed to optimize equipment selection and configuration.

“To ensure success, we advise customers to ‘slow down, test first,’” Mr. Riggle said. “Every gluten-free product is different from raw materials through packaging. It’s important to test the equipment ahead of time.”

Rademaker operates a test bakery in Culemborg, The Netherlands, where the company is headquartered.

“We’ve tested every gluten-free job at this facility, and we learned something new each time,” Mr. Riggle said. He described working last year on one of the biggest gluten-free lines to be installed in the United States.

“After running tests of the equipment, the line’s configuration came out completely different,” he said.

Other equipment manufacturers run test bakeries and encourage customers to make use of these. Handtmann offers two options.

“First, we have machines here that customers can use with their own ingredients and formulations,” Mr. Zelaya explained. “Second, we can send the machine and a technician to them to run tests in their own facility.”

Equipment choice boils down to what works best for the product.

“I recommend bakers approach it in a similar way to all other products,” said Jim Kline, president, The EnSol Group, Erwinna, Pa. Functional spec’s for gluten-free doughs should describe their viscosity, extensibility, density, absorption, temperatures and so forth, just as any other baked food. He urged testing in both the lab and the field.

“If you don't find what you are looking for, don't hesitate to look outside of the box,” Mr. Kline advised. “With enough persistence, you will find a supplier who will not flinch when they read your requirements.”
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