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Bread: Kneading to know the importance of wheat

14 September 2016
written by : John Hirst

Bread manufacturing and production is vast and varied, the key ingredients are however fairly homogenous and consist mainly of water, yeast and of course wheat flour. Additional ingredients are added to differentiate breads from one another, and can include: seeds, salts, oils, dairy products and a variety of other grains to create the diversity we see today between different loaves.


Bread wheat is the most common wheat used in flour production and most widely used in baking. This wheat species (Triticum aestivum) has been developed over time, into a hybrid of a number of different wheat strands, and through breeding now accounts for around 95% of global yields. This is the key commodity used by mills to produce the flour we use in breads.


The UK wheat planting area has remained relatively unchanged in 2016 and stands at around 1.7 million hectares, only up 0.3% from 2015. This area of land dedicated to wheat production in 2015 yielded an estimated 8.8 tonnes per hectare; a year on year increase of 2.8% from 2014, to the highest level in a quarter of a century. Wheat production varies from season to season and is heavily impacted by the climate and weather conditions throughout the growing period; and at the time of harvest.


The National Association of British and Irish Millers (NABIM) grade wheat quality to ascertain which wheat is good, and for what purpose. The premium of which is Grade 1 variety; but even within this classification, grains are not always interchangeable, and some are better suited to bread making than others. Grade 2 is also applicable to bread making but has, on average, lower protein content and is more likely to be exported. Anything lower than Grade 2 would rarely be considered for breads, and is more commonly used for distilling, biofuels, feed and other cereal food production.



The Milling Process


The milling process is fairly straight forward. The process separates the bran and germ from the endosperm, which is reduced to make up the finely ground flour we use in bread making. 


Milling Process



  • Before milling, wheat is cleaned to remove impurities and other fine matter



  • Conditioning ensures grain moisture uniformity



  •  During the Gristing stage, different wheats are combined to produce a mix appropriate to the diverse product requirements



  • Breaking involves feeding the wheats through multiple rollers that break down the structure of the grain



  • Sieves are used between rollers to the separate the components



























UK flour and imported wheats

About 85% of the wheat used by UK flour millers is sourced from within the UK. This proportion varies, and depends on the quality of both the UK crop, and that of the imported un-milled wheat from countries such as Germany, Denmark, Canada and France. Bakers are looking for particular characteristics such as the level of gluten content and grains that work well in fusion with other UK wheat’s.





Figure 1 is a graph showing the balance of trade for wheat. By observing how these changes have evolved over time, we can begin to understand the nature of the fluctuations in the supply and demand for both British and foreign imported wheat.


The proportion of imports to exports in the run up to the disastrous UK harvest in 2012 was predominantly focused towards exports. After 2012, due to poor quality and low yields, UK based millers had to turn to imports, to secure the higher quality grains needed to satisfy the requirements of bakers.


This pattern continued up until 2015/16, despite year on year growth in UK crop yields in 2014 (16% year on year increase to 8.6t/ha) and 2015 (4.6% year on year increase to 9.0t/ha) 


This suggests that the crop planted in the UK during this period was not meeting the specification that the UK market was demanding; thus imports were needed to supplement this lack of availability. This was attributed to the demand for feed in animal production outstripping the demand for human and industrial consumption (H&I).


We have now seen a shift back towards NABIM Grade 1 and Grade 2 varieties in the UK partially due to increased yield gains incentivising farmers to grow these bread making quality grains. Also contributing to the rebalancing of feed versus flour quality wheat, has been the shift in demand away from wheat in animal production towards other ingredients such as pulses and soya meal. It is estimated that in 2015/16 the demand for cereals in animal feed has fallen by 1% annually to 11.703M/tonnes.


From the initial samples taken from this season, the outlook is very optimistic. Specific weights are good and the bulk of milling wheat crops are meeting specification requirements, though until the harvest is complete and more samples have been processed the results should be treated with caution.


With a positive outlook, we can expect more UK grains to find their way into domestic milling. This should help reduce the exposure bakers and food manufacturers face in relation to sterling’s current devaluation against other international currencies. As such, we expect the trend of decreasing imports and increasing exports to continue into 2016/17.


Whilst allmanhall expect market conditions to remain stable, a foreseeable risk may arise from continental Europe, where wheat harvests have been badly affected by flooding and adverse weather conditions. French wheat output is forecasted to be 26% lower than those achieved in 2014/15, which increases the likelihood of importing larger quantities of milling and feed wheat from the UK. As a consequence, this may reduce quantities of bread quality wheat available for UK millers to make high quality flour.


Bread makers can often utilise a wide and diverse range of ingredients, though flour will always be critical.


allmanhall will continue to monitor these trends and consider them in our negotiations with suppliers, regarding prices. 

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