The quality and consistency of doughs are vital for the optimal efficiency of tortilla lines to produce the best products.

“There are doughs that need to be finished at higher temperatures because without it, they won’t pass through the dividing and rounding drum,” said Glenn Shelton, vice president of sales, Lawrence Equipment. “But most of the standard doughs need to be between 86°F and 90°F, and that is something people don’t control well. If it happens to be 78°F or 102°F, they just keep going.”

Dough consistency speaks to multiple aspects of the product, including the uniform uptake of water by the ingredients as well as dough elasticity.

“The elasticity of the dough varies by the temperature you finish at,” Mr. Shelton said. “When you screw that up, the settings you have used for your line won’t work to achieve the product specifications. Either it’s too small because it’s too cold or it’s too big because it’s too hot. Roundness is also compromised. Other manifestations can be much uglier than just not making the size, like dough balls that won’t dislodge from the proofer cups. The most important part of any mix is that there’s an optimal elasticity that needs to be achieved repeatedly in order to be able to maintain high efficiency on a high throughput line with low waste.”

Tortilla manufacturers can avoid problems with advanced water meters.

“It can’t just have a single source of water or even two sources of water,” Mr. Shelton said. “It has to have three. One is hot, one is cold and one is chilled water. Alternately, people who have fewer resources use ice, but ice is a poor substitute for chilled water because it doesn’t incorporate all at the same time, so it impedes uniform dough development.”

Hot temperatures can alter doughs as they’re being processed as well. Plants, especially in the southern half of the United States, can heat up significantly, so operators must take care to manage the issue — such as introducing cold air into the proofer — before it creates problems.

“The proofers typically sit up at the top of the building against the ceiling, and it’s hottest there,” Mr. Shelton explained. “In a production plant anywhere in the Southwest, this is high risk. For that matter, many parts of the world can get blistering hot in the summertime.” 

Managing flour usage on sheeted lines to keep doughs from sticking is another problem bakers can sometimes struggle to manage.

“Flour dusting is something incredibly important with these systems, and all operators and bakers want minimal flour usage,” said David Moline, vice president of sales and marketing for Moline Machinery. “I’ll say that’s a challenge to manage your flour usage. It’s critical. Having the right equipment is really a key component in that. For example, a lot of our die-cut flour tortilla systems will use our side-load technology where these systems are oftentimes 10-inch tortillas at five or six wide. That makes your flour dusters very wide, and you want to make sure that the left side to the right side is getting a very consistent application of flour because that is very critical in the sheeting process.”

These issues boil down to the importance of a well-trained staff that can recognize problems and adjust for them. Mr. Shelton stressed the importance of training and retraining new employees to operate lines at optimal speed.

This article is an excerpt from the July 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Flatbreads & Tortillas, click here.