Many high-volume bakeries are taking an additional look at prehydration to quash their thirst for saving energy and lowering overhead through quicker mix times and improved operational efficiency.

“I believe the next technology leap in the mixing of doughs is automatic prehydration of dry ingredients,” said Jim Warren, vice president, Exact Mixing, Reading Bakery Systems (RBS). “More manufacturers of both batch and continuous mixers offer some type of automated, in-line prehydration process. This improves consistency, reduces energy and speeds up the mixing process.”

Terry Bartsch, executive product manager, dough systems, AMF Bakery Systems, pointed out that AMF and RBS, which are both owned by Markel Food Group, are collaborating on how to incorporate hydration to enhance product quality and mixing efficiency in horizontal mixers.

In addition to eliminating the need to incorporate ingredients during the initial low-speed part of the mix cycle, he added, initial testing of prehydration shows a 15% reduction in high-speed mix times and about a 3% increase in the amount of water in a dough. Together, they lower energy while providing a higher yield.

“With less mixing time, there are energy savings as well as not as much heat buildup from friction in the bowl,” Mr. Bartsch said. “Because we’re hydrating much more efficiently at the micro level, we’re able to get more water into the dough compared to dumping all of the ingredients into a mixer.”

There are other options for prehydration that are also commonly used. Melanie Gay, marketing manager for products and services, VMI, said the company’s horizontal pre-mixer improves the quality of dough by allowing a wider range of hydration from 40% to 110%.

Flour, sugar and other baking ingredients are initially hydrated to form a homogeneous dough and the beginning of a gluten network.

Ronald Falkenberg, regional sales director USA & Canada, Diosna, noted that a pre-dough mix includes yeast, water and flour that typically ferments at 80˚F in anywhere from 2 to 18 hours. The amount of yeast is miniscule — typically 0.5% in the batch — but the extended fermentation time provides several benefits.

“You get a natural fermentation, which allows you to better develop the gluten and experience better volume without using dough improvers,” he said. “If you have a pre-dough, you have flour and water incorporated already; the mix time is much shorter.” 

He added that a chilled pre-dough often eliminates the need for ice or cooling jackets to maintain the dough temperature during the spiral or horizontal mixing process.

Mr. Bartsch suggested that combining prehydration with a premix can potentially provide greater savings because all the ingredients are hydrated as they enter the mixer. He said many liquid brews contain 40% flour that’s later added to 60% dry flour during the mixing cycle. Additionally, the brew’s long fermentation adds the flavor to breads that many bakers desire.

“We’re taking 100% of the flour and hydrating it before we’re putting it into the horizontal mixer,” he said. “Instead of putting the brew on top of unhydrated flour, you are putting it on top of hydrated flour.”

By looking outside of the bowl, bakeries can explore new ways to automate and revisit multiple mixing processes that together could provide a helping hand at a time when many operations need it most. 

This article is an excerpt from the June 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Mixing, click here.