Baking & Snack - August 2018 - 87

Len Heflich

Bakers need to be ready for the impending...



There is a gluten crisis hanging over the baking industry
as several factors converge in a slow and insidious manner, making it difficult to clearly identify.
Wheat quality is one factor. The protein quality and
quantity in wheat has been dropping for the past 40
years. Average hard red winter wheat patent flour from
Nebraska 40 years ago had 12% protein, 60% absorption, 0.45% ash and a farinographic mixing stability of
25 minutes. Today, we are lucky to get 10.5% protein,
58% absorption, 0.6% ash and a farinographic mixing
stability of 8 minutes. The change has happened so slowly that many bakers haven't noticed. But those numbers
should be a call to arms.
Bakers have adjusted by reducing the absorption of
their doughs and adding increasing amounts of gluten,
emulsifiers and enzymes to maintain finished product
quality. This came at a cost. Bakers didn't use enzymes
40 years ago, and the level of gluten and emulsifiers back
then was significantly lower. The pressure for clean labels is now driving bakers to remove emulsifiers, which
will put more emphasis on wheat quality and drive up
gluten usage even further.
The industry has also allowed the ash content of patent flour to creep up over the years. Ash is the combination of bran and aleurone layers from the wheat kernel
ground up finely. These fine particles of bran and aleurone absorb water in the dough; it looks like absorption,
but since ash produces no strength in the dough, the
absorption is false. It takes energy to grind the wheat
fine enough to allow the inclusion of bran and aleurone

particles, which increases damage to the starch granules
in the flour. Damaged starch granules absorb water in
the dough, while undamaged granules absorb almost no
water. What's left looks like absorption, but it produces
no dough strength.
The result is that we are using more gluten today, and
even using it in products where it wasn't needed before.
For example, almost all of today's white breads contain
gluten. Vital wheat gluten is a byproduct of the manufacture of wheat starch, tying the availability of gluten to that
demand. In the US, vital wheat gluten is mostly imported
from areas with an abundance of wheat or that which is
not useful for baking bread. Adding gluten is costly, but it
is also risky. Some of us remember the vital wheat gluten
shortage that occurred in the late 1980s, when bakers had
to scramble to find new sources of gluten.
Ultimately, the issue comes down to the farmer and
the baker. Farmers currently are motivated by yield because they generally do not get paid for producing higher quality wheat. The result is that they grow wheat on
marginal land or as a rotation crop. They do not apply
fertilizer or other inputs that could improve crop quality.
We need a mechanism to drive the production of higher quality wheat. Andrew Hoelscher, founder of Farm
Strategy and president of Farm Strategy Consultants, is
developing a program that provides incentives to farmers based on the quality of the wheat they deliver. This
type of program could be the game changer. The industry needs a vision to inspire a wheat crop that farmers
want to grow. And avert a crisis.

* / August 2018 Baking & Snack 87

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