As the daughter of a Kansas wheat farmer, baking has always been a part of Kathy Brower’s life.
“Home baking was an essential skill, and learning how to operate equipment went along with the daily activities,” she explained. “I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had growing up to experience life on the farm and consider it an honor to help others receive safe, healthy foods — especially in connection with grain.”
A Manhattan, Kan., native, Ms. Brower attended Kansas State University, where she began as a pre-pharmacy student.
“During this time, I became increasingly interested in the challenges facing our food supply system and eventually dialed my science curriculum into focus with the food science and industry program,” she said.
Ms. Brower graduated with degrees in food science and industry and Spanish. She began her career as an ingredient and labeling analyst at Hostess Brands, Lenexa, Kan., before returning to her alma mater to serve as the Riley County health inspector. She went on to work for AIB International in various roles, including as experimental baking/research technologist and bakery pilot plant manager. Most recently, she served as food safety specialist for Terrasoul Superfoods, Fort Worth, Texas, and senior research laboratory specialist at MS Biotec, Wamego, Kan.
A 16-year industry veteran, Ms. Brower now serves as Grain Craft’s Innovation & Quality lab manager in her hometown. Growing up on a farm, Ms. Brower said she has respect for the wheat kernel’s farm-to-fork journey and takes pride in the fact she’s doing her part to feed the world — a responsibility that is especially important now.
“With the strain on the world grain supply, we know people are relying on us more than ever to keep up with increasing demands,” she said. “We continue to push through supply chain issues and appreciate the work our growers are doing to help meet the needs of our customers.”
What are the most important factors that determine wheat and flour quality?
Wheat quality is influenced by three key factors: environmental conditions, genetics and farming practices. Flour quality is subsequently driven by those key factors; however, it also relies heavily on the fourth component of milling expertise. Flour is expected to meet the needs of a particular bakery application for the end user; from the farming practices of our growers, the careful selection by our grain merchants and the specified blending done by our expert millers, we craft flour that meets the quality needs of our clients.
With the opening of the Grain Craft Innovation & Quality (GCIQ) Lab in Manhattan, Kan., we connect directly with local wheat growers via the Kansas Wheat Commission and support programs such as Kansas State University’s Wheat Rx. Grain Craft’s Preferred Varieties program connects the data from our wheat and flour analysis to apprise breeders and growers of high-performance varieties that will be well accepted by bakers. Grain Craft also works to deliver identity-preserved varieties to bakeries that require farm-to-fork traceability.
What are the biggest challenges facing the wheat and flour industry today?
One of the biggest challenges facing the wheat and flour industry today is labor — both the recruitment of individuals with strong technical backgrounds and the retention of current talent. Grain Craft prioritizes creating avenues for community interaction. With the addition of the GCIQ Lab near Kansas State University, for instance, we have been able to hire several part-time students, providing them firsthand experience in wheat and flour analysis and test baking. Our 2022 internship program is currently sponsoring eight baking and/or milling science students, one working in our GCIQ Lab and the others at our various mill locations. Regardless of whether these students eventually work for Grain Craft or another company, we are striving to create a strong technical foundation for them that will hopefully encourage a long, rewarding career in the food industry. We also support programs such as the Home Bakers Association that provide technical expertise and training materials to primary and secondary educators.
What is Grain Craft’s Upstream Innovation Initiative, and how does it promote sustainability?
Partnerships are the vital component to Upstream Innovation. By understanding the flour quality needs of our customers, we can open discussions with universities, wheat breeders and growers on how to accomplish high-yield potential without compromising quality characteristics. Sustainability starts with our growers who are dedicated to sustainable agriculture with a focus on soil health practices. Universities and breeding programs are vital to the effort, as they develop the seeds that resist drought, disease and pests all the while achieving high protein quality and good mixing properties for bakers. Grain Craft will continue to promote the efforts of our partners for the health of our communities and our planet.
How can bakers ensure they pick the best flour for their baking needs?
A baker will choose flour according to product application. For instance, hard winter wheat and/or hard spring blend patent flour is chosen primarily for bread making, while soft wheats are selected for making cake. Bakers can rely on Grain Craft’s technical support team to help them select the best flour for their application, as well as troubleshoot production issues.
What are the benefits of high-gluten flour, and for what applications are they best suited?
High-gluten flour lends strength and stability to any application. Be aware that it will also require additional hydration and mix time. This flour is typically milled from hard spring wheat and is best suited for long fermentation processes and products such as hearth breads, kaiser rolls and bagels.
How does the type of pizza determine which flour would be best?
How crispy do you like your crust? That is the starting point. For a Neapolitan-style thin crust or cracker-style crust that is going through the sheeting process, it is typical to choose flour with a moderate protein content. Most other multi-purpose crusts for hand-tossed and medium doughs would fall into a slightly lower protein range. New York-style pizzas with crisp bottoms and chewy texture, as well as long fermentation pan-style crusts, may perform better with higher protein flour. Our winter/spring wheat blends work well in frozen applications where more tolerance is required.
What flour is best for different sweet goods?
For cakes, it is common to use flour derived from soft wheat with moderate to low protein content. Sponge cakes and funnel cakes perform best with high-ratio soft wheat flour at slightly lower protein content. Pastry flour is selected for cookie and pie applications and generally targets moderate to higher protein content. Each of these flour types are milled from soft red or white wheat.