In any milling or baking operation, there is not enough time to sit and ponder if the incoming ingredients maintain the conditions that were promised by the supplier. Even when production processes are functioning with the appropriate standards, low-quality, out-of-spec flour, wheat, or ingredients can disturb the entire production run.
Image Credit: KPM Analytics
Quality ingredients are not only necessary for baked goods, but they also decrease the chances of reworked or rejected products, which can impact the bottom line of an operation. However, several milling and baking functions may mistakenly take their suppliers at their word.
As far as the investment and promise to customers are considered, taking a hands-on approach to testing the quality of incoming flour, wheat, and ingredients might be simpler than it first seems.
Mediating the Costs of Doing Business
For most baking operations, ingredient prices are one of the highest routine expenses. 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, which then ultimately has an impact on the price of flour.
Generally, flour is sold depending on a few quality factors — moisture, protein, ash content, etc. — which tend to be specified by the miller upon every flour delivery. In addition, product seasonings and sprays have aspects that contribute to their quality, like fiber, sugar, fatty acids, and other intricate compounds.
Nevertheless, without assessing these factors, the bakery or miller could be mistakenly spending too much on low-quality ingredients. Thankfully, there is a quick, accurate, and straightforward solution to aid in verifying the incoming ingredients’ quality.
NIR Technology Makes Ingredient Quality Validation Simple
To reinforce their quality assurance protocol, more millers and bakeries are investing in NIR instruments. Many have found that these instruments can help stop customers from paying too much for out-of-spec wheat, flour, and ingredients.
In as little as a minute, NIR analyzers provide precise readings on simple-to-complex factors. To examine particular product types for key constituents, these instruments can be pre-programmed; however, calibration customization is also likely.
How a NIR Analyzer Works
The figure below highlights the steps a reflectance NIR analyzer takes when it comes to measuring important parameters of products.
Image Credit: KPM Analytics
Application Example: Cutting the Quality Lab Middle-Man
Some bakeries regularly send samples of the product to an external quality laboratory for examination. This method can get expensive with time. The cost of a sample analysis operation can range somewhere from 20 to 50 USD/sample. It can also take days for bakeries to get the results of the analysis. By that time, the flour or ingredients can be in a production run.
One bakery used the SpectraStar™ XT-F NIR Analyzer to assess their raw flours for starch damage, water absorption, ash content, and other characteristics. In a short amount of time, the bakery was able to pay for their instrument with money that they had 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
For many types of baked products, chocolate is an important ingredient. To produce chocolate, cocoa liquor is mixed with cocoa butter and sugar to create the final product. Fat content is introduced to chocolate by cocoa butter, which influences taste and product texture. In chocolate production, cocoa butter is one of the most expensive ingredients — a price that is generally passed onto the customer.
One cookie producer started looking for a better approach to ensure the quality of the chocolate that they were receiving from their supplier. Due to chocolate quality inconsistencies, they were struggling with the recurrent reworking of the product; however, their supplier had gradually raised their product’s cost to conform to the rise in cocoa butter commodity pricing.
The bakery could analyze fat, including the sugar, moisture, and lactose content of each chocolate delivery, with a SpectraStar™ XT-R Analyzer. This analysis helped the company reduce instances of rejected or reworked product significantly and helped ensure that they were not paying excessive amounts of money for low-quality chocolate from their supplier. With the analysis data, the company was able to better communicate with their supplier and partner with them to ensure the specified ranges required.
Application Example: Making Data-Driven Decisions Throughout the Milling Process
Bakers trust millers to deliver flour at a specified 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 tool, one milling company was able to manage the parameter quality of the milling process in different ways, which included:
- Testing incoming wheat for moisture and protein (both are payment standards for wheat cultivators)
- Quantifying both moisture and protein during the tempering and blending process
- Assessing milling samples for protein and ash to find yield or sieve effectiveness
- Examining co-products to test quality and value for usage as an ingredient
- Confirming finished flour meets grade for their customer
How Could Baking & Milling Operations Benefit from NIR Analysis?
Advantages for Bakers and Millers
- A quick examination of tempered and incoming wheat makes sure the grain is of the expected grade
- Flour yield is increased by in-process testing of milling streams, and it offers precise data to enhance blends for grade specifications
- Finished product testing guarantees that the end-user requirements are met
- Assess in-process and incoming raw ingredients for both functional and compositional properties (starch damage, water absorption, rheological properties)
- Guarantee consistent quality and composition, resulting in fewer production concerns and higher-quality finished goods
Image Credit: KPM Analytics
Only the best quality ingredients can produce the best quality products, and a supplier must be able to commit to delivery the quality that is expected of their customers.
Fortunately, NIR technology provides a functional way to ensure each batch of ingredients and flour fulfills the standards of the brand before a faulty production run can start.
This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by KPM Analytics.
For more information on this source, please visit KPM Analytics.