Why Use Bread Improver?

I am still surprised by the questions posed to me nowadays. Most would have thought that after the Australian introduced the use of No-time dough five decades ago, bakers would have known better about bread improver. Surprisingly, I still get this usual question, “Why use bread improver?” The bakery industries use bread improver or dough enhancer to facilitate bread production. We shall attempt to answer the question with some background history; to both the bakers and to the consumers.

In the good old days, flour millers used the best high protein wheat from the US and Canada for bread flour production. The factory would age the green flour for at least 6 weeks before releasing the raw material for distribution. The flour aging process is a crucial part of flour production supply chain. It propagates flour oxidation, a vital process, for stronger gluten formation during dough mixing. Oxidation is so important, that there will be no bread without this reaction. In case you wonder, oxidation is carried out both in flour milling and bread baking industry.

In the most ideal situation, a baker has little to worry about when it comes to flour. Decades ago, a baker took for granted that his friendly flour miller had taken care of the flour conditioning (the right protein and sufficient aging) before being sent to his bakery. All that he needed for baking were the basic ingredients:
1. Flour
2. Water
3. Salt
4. Sugar
5. Fat
6. Yeast

Unfortunately, “good times” don’t last long. Bakers cannot expect the raw materials (especially flour) that he received to be consistent in quality anymore. Ingredient manufacturers are forced to improve “efficiencies” due to skyrocketing production costs.

Flour Millers’ Quest To Cut Cost
Flour millers for instance, need to turn to different sources of wheat variety to cut down on production cost. Instead of pure Hard Red Winter or Hard Red Spring (two varieties of popular wheat for bread and rolls), millers resort to mixing these wheat with lower protein wheat species. Some of the millers ignore the protein quality (only two types of protein used to form gluten network) and merely use the total protein within the wheat variety to make up for the numbers.

In order to cut production time, some millers decrease the time for flour aging. Inventory time is equivalent to lost opportunity cost. In order to make up for the shorter oxidizing period, flour mills started to use flour improver. Flour improver basically performs the same way as bread improver, depending on where  the application is .

Enters The Bread Improver
The care free life of our baker came to an abrupt halt. He can no longer rely on the flour mill for quality and consistencies. No doubt, there are flour improver, but it can never replace the quality aging via raw storage.

Know this. Not only are flour millers pressed for time and cost savings, the bakers face the same economic situation too. In fact, all manufacturers in the world have the same problem as the flour producers and bakeries. Efficiency is the call of the day. Period!

The basic ingredients are not adequate to produce bread and roll like in the past. Bakers could use the basic ingredients, only if he applies one of the two methods to produce bread.

a. Straight Dough Method
A method whereby the whole dough is left to ferment for 5 to 6 hours after mixing.

b. Sponge and Dough Method
A process where the baker places a portion of his mixed dough in fermentation for 3 to 4 hours. He then mixes the fermented portion (sponge) with the dough (unfermented) until developed.

Both of the methods make use of two natural occuring process to develop and oxidize the gluten network of our dough. Let us understand the basic mechanics of these processes, before we proceed further.

1. Kinetic reaction
The mixing and kneading yield the kinetic energy that develops the initial gluten network. Gluten is not a naturally occurring protein in the flour. Two natural protein that exist naturally inside our bread flour will form gluten, when mixed with water mechanically.

2. Biochemical reaction
You see, you can’t just keep on punishing the dough with your kneader, hoping the dough will develop the needed elasticity and extensibility. It doesn’t work this way. If you keep on abusing the dough with your mixer, the whole gluten network will breakdown into a liquefied mass. That’s useless and wasteful.

After the initial mixing procedure, a baker need to rest the dough. During resting, yeast and all the natural organism within the flour will undergo a complex biochemical process. This process will oxidize the gluten network, thus providing all the necessary traits that are needed for baking excellence. The natural fermentation not only induce oxidation, it produces fusions of flavours, that make our bread desirable to our olfactory senses.

The Pressure For Speed And Profits….
However, like the heading, the need for speed took precedence.

Instead of waiting for 4 to 7 hours for dough fermentation in both the sponge dough and straight dough methods, scientists devised a way to speed things up considerably. Experts made use of chemical oxidizing agents like potassium bromate and emulsifiers to replace the natural biochemical reaction. In other words, they found a new and more efficient chemical solution to replace the longer pain staking process.

Making use of the chemical reaction gave rise to a new bread making method called the no-time dough method. That means no more resting for hours after mixing. These were the first batch of bread improver ,mixed into the flour by flour millers. But bear in mind, dough enhancers from flour millers usually served the basic purpose of dough oxidation. The gluten network within these “ancient” no time dough breads were crude and rough.

However, imagine the bakeries’ savings in manpower and overtime wages with the advent of dough enhancer in the baking arena. Of course, due to the original nature of the early bread improver, bakers still need to give their dough some minor rest after mixing. Therefore, a wee bit of biochemical reaction was still vital to compliment the added chemicals to produce more relaxed gluten network.

Modern bread improver or dough enhancer like our GK Master Bake Soft and GK Master UB Improver are capable to provide that missing link. These bread improvers couple as premium bread softener that uses enzymes like Amylase to soften the gluten network that occur during natural biochemical process. Resting period is reduced to zero with the help of premium bread improvers,.

Bread improver has integrated into the life of bakers around the world. Modern discoveries in the use of natural enzymes enable less chemicals used, rendering our dough enhancers safer and more environmental friendly. Bread improver brings benefits to the bread industry by saving billions through new efficiencies never imaginable before in the early decades.

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