ARCHIVED - Harvest Science - Issue 2 The grain science and technology newsletter

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Rigorous tests for quality

When it comes to choosing wheat for use at Nisshin Flour Milling, the first choice is Number 1 Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS).

"In Japan, we consider Number 1 CWRS the best wheat for bread making in the world," says Koji Murakami from Nisshin Flour Milling and representative for the Flour Millers Association of Japan.

Murakami says one of the main reasons for his company's preference is the consistent quality that comes from buying Canadian wheat. Consistent quality includes low variance ranges in protein, ash and moisture content. From shipment to shipment, Canadian wheat meets his requirements.

Consistent quality key to customer confidence

Nancy Edwards, Program Manager for Breadwheat Research, says that Canada's ability to meet the needs of customers like Murakami is a direct result of the variety registration system.

"Before a new wheat line becomes a registered variety, it must meet the end-use requirements for its class and demonstrate consistent quality. It's this consistent quality that has helped build customers' confidence in Canadian wheat and has given them the trust that it will perform the way they expect and need it to," she says.

Quality parameters

Each class of wheat has a quality model for its intended end-use. A quality model includes specific parameters that need to be met for a new wheat line to be recommended for registration. Quality parameters are based on input from exporters, millers, baking companies, grain handlers, plant breeders, scientists and marketers. Their input ensures Canadian wheat consistently meets customers' quality requirements whether it is used to make flour, bread, cookies or noodles.

Testing and evaluating quality performance

Before a new wheat line can be recommended for registration, it must undergo 3 years of testing, including quality testing. The Grain Research Laboratory carries out quality testing and evaluation and shares the results with the Prairie Grain Development Committee, the committee responsible for recommending varieties for registration to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The Grain Research Laboratory uses the same methods from year to year and it has no vested interest in the test results.

New wheat lines intended for the CWRS class are grown in a number of locations across the prairies in co-operative trials. The lines are evaluated for agronomic performance and disease resistance over 3 years. Following harvest each year, the wheat that is grown is sent to the Grain Research Laboratory for quality testing. Because the new wheat lines are grown in different locations across the prairies, samples from each location are combined to make composite samples for each line. Composite samples reduce the impact of different weather conditions and allow for direct comparison against the check varieties.

The composites are graded and then milled to assess milling performance and to provide flour for further evaluation. The milled wheat is evaluated for factors such as flour yield, protein and ash. Using a farinograph, the Grain Research Laboratory evaluates the flour for water absorption capacity and dough strength. These tests show results such as how much gluten is in the flour, how much water the flour can absorb and how long the dough can be mixed before gluten strands start to break down.

Dough mixed in a National Swanson-type pin mixer.
Quality testing of new wheat lines includes evaluating the time and amount of energy needed to mix dough to make bread. A National Swanson-type pin mixer is used and energy is measured in Watt hours/kg.

New wheat lines are also evaluated for falling number. The falling number test is used to detect alpha amylase, an enzyme found in sprouted kernels. High levels of this enzyme can affect loaf volume, make dough sticky and disrupt commercial baking equipment.

The Grain Research Laboratory also bakes the flour into bread using a process similar to what is used commercially in Canada and in many importing countries. The bread is evaluated for qualities such as loaf volume, crumb structure and baking absorption. The results from these quality tests are important in identifying how each wheat line will perform during milling and baking.

Evaluating bread slices.
Flour from new wheat lines is baked into bread and scored on a scale of 0 to 10 for qualities such as crumb structure and colour.

A new wheat line needs to meet the quality parameters set for its class and perform as well or better than existing varieties within this class to be recommended for registration.

Reviewing quality evaluation results

Once quality testing is completed for a new wheat line, the results are forwarded to the Prairie Grain Development Committee’s Quality Evaluation Team, where committee members review the data. The Agronomy and Disease evaluation teams also review each wheat line for their performance. Based on the information from all 3 teams (Agronomy, Disease and Quality), members vote on whether or not to recommend the new wheat line for registration to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Predictability and trust

Edwards says that the 3 years of quality evaluation helps to ensure that new wheat lines perform as well or better than current registered varieties and will meet end-use customer expectations.

"When we talk to customers, what they appreciate the most about Canadian wheat is its consistent quality. We achieve this by ensuring all varieties meet quality requirements for their class. For customers, this means predictability and trust in Canadian wheat quality" she says.

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