Precision is an important aspect in the baking process. From managing the quality of ingredients used in a recipe to controlling the baking temperature, time, and other stages in the baking process, there are several quantifiable factors that affect the outcome of a product’s texture, flavor, density, appearance, and other traits that consumers notice.
All baked goods are the result of flour being transformed into a product of some kind, so it is no surprise that flour quality is essential to the baking process. However, it may be a surprise to some just how certain flour quality properties can differ from batch-to-batch.
How Do You Determine if a Flour is Good or Bad?
Rather than thinking of flour in terms of “good” or “bad,” it is better to think in terms of whether a specific batch of flour will “fit” your process or “adapt” to produce your desired product. Unless there are obvious defects in the flour, it may be nearly impossible to visually assess flour quality from one batch to the next. As a result, the only real way to know whether a batch of flour will be a good “fit” for your product is to put it through the constraints that a dough would undergo through its production process.
Also, a single batch of flour could contain specific quality parameters to produce one product better than another. For instance – assuming that all other stages of the baking process are controlled – one batch of flour may have the properties ideal for producing pan bread, but it could be a less-than-ideal flour for producing noodles, pizza dough, cookies, and others.
This means, based on your baking process and the product you are creating, you should be aiming for a specific flour “profile” that is suitable for your desired final product.
What Parameters Determine Flour Quality?
Traditionally, flour quality has been measured based on protein content, amylase activity, and dough rheology (including water absorption and dough behavior), among other parameters. But it’s important to keep in mind that flour specifications are not static, and that many of the methods we have used to evaluate flour quality in the past are not extremely precise.
For instance, if your baked product is specified for a flour that has protein content between 12-13%, you may not necessarily find an obvious difference in your final product if you use flour with 11.9% or 13.1% protein. Nevertheless, some bakers may reject flour out of this assigned spec, which can become wasteful and costly over time.
Consumer taste and/or expectation is another aspect to consider when evaluating flour quality. Some regions simply may not have access to the same type of flour as others, which can lead to a different final product. For example, a baguette from France may have very different crumb structure, texture, and a general appearance to a baguette from South America. But, if these products satisfy the consumer’s taste for that region, then the baker is doing their job.
Therefore, when it comes to determining the best parameters to evaluate flour quality, it again depends on the expectations for the product the baker is producing.
Methods to Streamline & Simplify Dough Analysis
As technology has advanced, bakers now have a solution to test their incoming flour and simulate how a batch will behave in the baking process without having to waste excessive time and money performing experimental production runs. At the forefront is theMixolab 2, an intuitive, fast, and automated machine that allows bakers (or millers) to check the quality and regularity of flours, assess impact of enzymes, develop new formulations (including high-fiber or gluten-free), and streamline production processes of finished products.
The Mixolab 2 is a “dough translator” that converts complex technical and scientific information into six simple quality indices, known as the internationally recognized CHOPIN+ protocol. These six indices are:
Water absorption: This is the water quantity needed for the dough to reach maximum torque.
Mixing: The mixing index is the summary of dough behavior at a constant temperature (30 °C) within the first eight minutes of the test. This measures dough resistance to mixing stress, which will help determine optimal mixing times, stabilities, and consistency (like a Farinograph test).
Protein weakening (Gluten+): During this phase, the dough is subjected to continued mixing stress (mechanical stress) and thermal stress (a temperature increase from 30-to-60°C). This heating results in the weakening of gluten proteins, providing the user with gluten strength data beyond basic mixing properties.
Viscosity: During this phase, mixing continues, and the temperature increases from 60-80°C. While this occurs, starch begins to gelatinize, which means the dough is transitioning from a gluten-supported system to a starch-supported system.
Amylase: In this phase, the dough is heated at a constant 90°C. Gluten at this stage is not playing any significant rheological role, and the starch granules have gelatinized and been attacked by amylases. The dough is still being mixed by the machine – which is the only mechanical stress affecting the dough at this time – providing a measure of starch gel stability.
Retrogradation: The dough is cooled to a temperature of ~60°C, and through this process, an increase in dough consistency can be observed. We can also observe the initial stage of amylose retrogradation, which is a good indicator of overall starch recrystallization – a reaction that directly relates to product shelf life.
Each of these evaluations are performed on a sample of flour over a 45-minute period, while the Mixolab 2 software calculates these measurements into an evaluation curve. From there, the user can test a batch of flour for these specific parameters to ensure their flour will deliver the desired results for their products.
Determining the Right Flour “Profile” Made Simple
As mentioned earlier, rather than thinking of flour as good or bad for your baked product, it is best to think in terms of whether the flour will “adapt” to your product. The six indices collected by the Mixolab 2 analyzer accomplishes exactly that: When you have record of an “ideal” flour for your product (typically achieved after ~20 samples), you can assemble a profile to help measure against future batches of flour. This not only helps the bakery ensure flour quality from batch-to-batch, but also from location-to-location if the company has multiple production facilities.
For recipes that use white flour, the Mixolab Profiler is an intuitive application to help maintain quality control when evaluating batches of white flour in a visual, simple-to-understand presentation.
Each of the six phases from the Mixolab 2 is evaluated on a 0-to-9 number scale.
As you analyze a batch of dough, the Mixolab 2 will assign a number at each of the six phases.
After the test is complete, the software outputs the information into a profile that can be used to balance against the profile of an ideal sample of flour.
What Makes a Good Flour? The Decision can be Yours!
Nobody knows your product better than you. When it comes to controlling flour quality, incorporating a fast, insightful, and easy-to-use tool to determine an ideal flour profile that you can use to benchmark every flour delivery is your best option.