In any baking or milling operation, there's little time to consider whether your incoming ingredients maintain the specifications your supplier promised. Even if all your production processes are operating to exact standards, poor quality, out-of-spec wheat, flour, or ingredients can upset an entire production run.

Not only are quality ingredients essential for baked products, but they also reduce instances of re-worked or discarded products, which can affect an operation's bottom line. Nevertheless, many baking and milling operations may erroneously take their suppliers at their word.

Considering your investment and promise to your customers, taking a proactive approach to verify the quality of your incoming wheat, flour, and ingredients may be easier than you think.

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Mediating the Costs of Doing Business

Ingredient costs are among the highest routine expenses for most baking operations. Wheat, in particular, is priced on several factors beyond a miller's control. Anything from an unfavorable growing season to a political or economic crisis can significantly impact the market price or availability, impacting the flour price.

Flour is typically sold based on a few quality parameters – protein, moisture, and ash content, to name a few – commonly specified by the miller with each flour delivery. Product seasonings and sprays also have parameters that pertain to their quality, such as sugar, fiber, fatty acids, and other complex compounds.

However, without verifying these parameters, the miller or bakery could be erroneously spending too much on lower-quality ingredients. Fortunately, a fast, simple, and accurate solution exist to help operations verify the quality of incoming ingredients.

NIR Technology Makes Ingredient Quality Validation Simple

More bakeries and millers are investing in NIR instruments to fortify their quality assurance protocol. Many have found that these instruments can help them avoid paying too much for out-of-spec wheat, flour, and ingredients. NIR analyzers deliver accurate readings on simple-to-complex parameters in under one minute. These instruments can be pre-programmed to analyze specific product types for important constituents, but calibration customization is also possible.

How an NIR Analyzer Works

This diagram explains the steps a reflectance NIR analyzer takes to measure products for important parameters.

Application Example: Cutting the Quality Lab Middle-Man

Some bakeries routinely send product samples to an external quality laboratory for analysis. This approach can become costly over time; sample analysis can cost an operation anywhere between $20-50 USD per sample. Also, it can take days for bakeries to receive analysis results. The flour or ingredients could be in a production run by that time.

One bakery discovered the SpectraStar™ XT-F NIR Analyzer to test their raw flours for water absorption, starch damage, ash content, and other properties. In a short time, the bakery could pay for their instrument with money saved from routine lab analysis while creating a more robust line of communication with their miller.

Application Example: Finding the Ideal Target for Ingredient Quality

Chocolate is a vital ingredient for many types of baked goods. To make chocolate, cocoa liquor is mixed with sugar and cocoa butter to produce the final product. Cocoa butter introduces fat content to chocolate, which is influences product texture and taste. Cocoa butter is also one of the most expensive ingredients in chocolate production; a cost that is typically passed onto the customer.

One cookie manufacturer began searching for a better method to confirm the chocolate quality from their supplier. Not only were they struggling with frequent reworking of product due to chocolate quality inconsistencies, but their supplier had steadily increased the price of their product to comply with increases in cocoa butter commodity pricing.

Using a SpectraStar™ XT-R Analyzer, the bakery was able to verify fat along with the moisture, sugar, and lactose content of each chocolate delivery. This analysis helped the company significantly reduce instances of rejected or reworked product and helped ensure that they were not overpaying for lesser-quality chocolate from their supplier.

Application Example: Making Data-Driven Decisions Throughout the Milling Process

Bakers trust millers to deliver flour at a specified level of quality. Unfortunately, depending on the quality or availability of wheat, millers have to adjust their blends to meet grade specifications.

Using the SpectraStar™ XT-F NIR Analyzer as an at-line instrument, one milling company was able to manage the parameter quality of the milling process in a variety of ways, including:

  • Assessing incoming wheat for protein and moisture (both are payment criteria for wheat growers)
  • Measuring both protein and moisture during the blending and tempering process
  • Evaluating milling samples for ash and protein to determine yield or sieve effectiveness
  • Analyzing co-products to assess value and quality for use as an ingredient
  • Confirming finished flour meets grade for their customer

How Could Your Operation Benefit from NIR Analysis?

Advantages for Bakers Advantages for Millers
• Rapid analysis of incoming and tempered wheat ensures grain is of the expected grade

• In-process testing of milling streams increases flour yield and provides accurate data to optimize blends for grade specifications

• Finished product testing ensures compliance with end-user requirements
• Test incoming and in-process raw ingredients for both compositional and functional properties (water absorption, starch damage, rheological properties

• Ensure consistent composition and quality, leading to fewer production issues and higher quality final products

Only the best possible ingredients can produce the best possible products. You commit to your customers and consumers to deliver the quality they expect. Thankfully, NIR technology offers an effective way to confirm each batch of flour and ingredients meets brand standards before a faulty production run can begin.

Are you interested in learning more about NIR technologies to assess incoming ingredients?

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