Using lower protein wheat for bread making

By Gary Tucker - 12 August 2013

The level and characteristics of protein in wheat have a major bearing on its suitability for use in bread making - small differences can have a significant effect on final product quality. In order to make bread of acceptable quality in the UK, it can be necessary to either blend flours of different origins (which might include transporting or importing wheat from different parts of the world) or improve 'home-grown' wheat flour by specific agricultural practices, such as targeted nitrogen fertiliser application. Even though bread in the UK can now be produced without the need for imported flour, the unpredictability of the local weather does add complications! Even with sophisticated control systems in place, end product quality, particularly protein levels, can vary significantly.

Achieving the quality and quantify of protein in wheat needed for baking is challenging in the UK climate, and requires the application of high levels of nitrogen fertiliser at critical stages of plant growth. Lack of rainfall at this time can lead to problems with nitrogen uptake, and growers need to be careful in managing fertiliser application to limit both environmental impact of excessive nutrient application as well as limiting input costs. In addition, there is now a need to improve efficiency and significantly increase the yield of wheat (tonnes per hectare) to meet the demands of a growing population. However, increased yields tend to result in reduced protein content in the flour. Lower protein levels in flour, specifically lower levels of gluten-forming proteins, generally mean that the flour is not strong enough to retain gas bubbles to form an acceptable crumb structure in leavened bread. Salt can be used to attenuate some of these issues, but efforts to reduce dietary salt intake mean that this option is less available.

The way forward could be to develop bread making processes that would enable lower-protein flours to be use to make good quality bread. This could include evaluating possible hybrid technologies, such as lamination and layering, reflecting the needs for dough with different gluten levels at different parts of the process. Many of the technical advances in recent years made in gluten-free bakery technology could find applications in bread making with low protein wheat. Enabling the use of low protein flours in bread making will free up options for flour sourcing, thereby maximising flexibility for the industry. Increased use of locally produced cereals in general would be more sustainable for northern European wheat growing countries, including the UK, and would help reduce the industry carbon footprint. While this may be challenging, easy technology to develop the potential is there, for significant benefits for the baking and cereals processing sector, and the consumer.

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