by Tip Keng Pong, Technical Director Stern Ingredients Asia, Roman Gradert, head of the baking laboratory, Stern Ingredients Mexico, Christof Schricke, R & D, Baking Applications, Mühlenchemie, Vladimir Wengorz, R & D, Baking Applications Eastern Europe / Russia, Mühlenchemie.


Quality fluctuations are a 'no-go' with burger buns. The international fast food chains expect their suppliers to maintain strict product standards. Four experts from the enzyme specialist Mühlenchemie explain from their own experience how similar burger buns can be produced around the globe – regardless of individual production conditions and the raw materials used.

In the summer of 2018, burger buns hit the headlines of the US press after the Texan fast food chain In-N-Out Burger decided to close it restaurants temporarily. The reason given was the poor quality of its burger buns. How can the milling and baking industry prevent such a fiasco?


What are the issues with burger bun production?

Quality fluctuations are a 'no-go' with burger buns. The international fast food chains expect their suppliers to maintain strict product standards. Four experts from the enzyme specialist Mühlenchemie explain from their own experience how similar burger buns can be produced around the globe – regardless of individual production conditions and the raw materials used.

Tip Keng Pong, Technical Director for Stern Ingredients Asia says: The production of burger buns is no easy matter. There must be no noticeable deviations from the characteristics and appearance specified by the fast food restaurant chains.

Volume, texture, colour, taste – each bun must be exactly the same as the others. But since overall conditions vary enormously and every bakery works with different raw materials and equipment, problems sometimes occur nevertheless.


Where do the difficulties lie, then, in the production of burger buns?

Christof Schricke, Research & Development, Baking Applications, Mühlenchemie says:Burger buns are soft rolls with a high sugar and fat content. They must have an extremely soft, fluffy crumb and a fine texture. The whole bun should have a golden colour with very little white at the side.

The crust must have no cracks or blisters and should be evenly browned. In spite of their soft consistency, the buns have to be very robust. And the shape must be right, of course: for instance, the height of a standard bun is between 4.6 and 4.9 cm. That only gives you a margin of threemillimetres.'


So what flours should be used to meet the specifications of the burger chains?

Roman Gradert, Head of the Baking Laboratory at Stern Ingredients Mexico:In principle the flour should have good viscoelastic properties and a high gas retention capacity. Here in Mexico, the bakeries often use hard red winter wheat from the USA. Canadian wheat is a good choice for burger bun flour too. A high proteincontent, soft gluten – that is ideal. But these varieties are often mixed with cheaper lots for reasons of cost.

Vladimir Wengorz, R & D, Baking Applications, Eastern Europe/Russia, Mühlenchemie:The situation in Eastern Europe is a very special case. Wheat from Kazakhstan, from example, is an excellent high-protein bread wheat. But for burger buns the strong gluten tends to be a disadvantage. To deal with this you have to work with special proteases to achieve a soft, supple dough structure.

Schricke:Very often, bakeries are not free to choose what raw materials to use, because in many countries imports of wheat are regulated by the government. So the mills and bakeries have to manage with what happens to be available; that is where the biggest challenge lies.

Pong:In Asia, too, flours differ enormously in respect of their protein content and gluten quality. Weak flours, for example, can result in blistering and a coarse crumb, whereas flours that are too strong cause a brittle structure. It's crucial to avoid faults of that kind in the products, otherwise you find yourself faced with a lot of costly rejects.


So how is it possible to achieve uniform products in spite of different raw materials?

Gradert:Flour improvement plays an important role. For this we have a special toolbox. At the mills it is essential to ensure a high level of standardisation. The fine tuning is then usually the job of the bakeries. If enzymes, ascorbic acid and emulsifiers are adjusted optimally to the flour, good burger buns can be made even from weaker flours.


Which aspects of flour treatment are the most important?

Wengorz:One of the main tasks is to strengthen the structure of the dough and improve its fermentation tolerance. Some bakeries work with 70 percent sponge dough. Although that is good for water binding, it can cause problems with stability, especially in conjunction with long fermentation periods during preparation of the dough.

Then degradation processes take place which have a negative effect on the quality of the products. If the dough sticks to the fermentation tray, for example, the result is uneven patches and pits on the underside of the buns.

Moreover, doughs of that kind often have too little resistance to mechanical stress, for example the slope of the conveyor belts or during transfer to the ovens. Then it is essential to increase the stability of the dough with special bun improvers.

Pong:It's important for the dough to have a flowing consistency, too. If the structure is too firm and the dough does not fill the baking pan properly, the result is poor pan flow. Then the buns have different heights – an absolute no-go.

In that case the protein strands of the gluten have to be split, and the extensibility of the dough increased. Emulsifiers or emulsifying enzyme systems are important, too, in order to make the dough more supple and ensure a fine crumb texture.


Why are the properties of the crumb so important?

Wengorz: The crumb must have a fine, even texture so that the bun does not become saturated when filled. When the bun is toasted, the sugar in it caramelises and closes the pores on the cut surfaces. If the texture is too coarse, the crumb could soak up the meat juice from the hamburger or the sauce. That is a totally undesirable effect.


So the requirements for burger buns remain demanding, even after baking. Where do other problems occur?

Pong:One crucial point is reached just after baking. The products are cooled down quickly – then it may happen that the buns shrink and bend. Dough-relaxing enzymes like Alphamalt PRO can prevent this effect.

Schricke:The stability of the baked products is important for other reasons, too, because the buns are packed on top of each other. That can easily result in breakage. One way to avoid it is with EMCE Gluten Enhancer, a functional compound consisting of enzymes, vegetable fibres and hydrocolloids.

Gradert:Another aspect is the shelf life. Here in Mexico we have greatly differing climate zones, from cool to tropical. That has to be taken into consideration. Under humid conditions you often need preservatives to delay microbiological spoilage. And maltogenic amylases and emulsifiers help to keep the buns fresh for up to six weeks. Alphamalt Fresh prolongs the softness of the crumb by several weeks.


Additives to serve every purpose – but on the other hand, in 2018 McDonalds announced that it intended to stop using chemical additives in its buns in the future…

Pong:Clean label and green label are major trends throughout the food industry. As an enzyme specialist we find responses to that – responses that are in keeping with the times. We have hundreds of enzyme components with different spectrums of effect.

From these we develop innovative alternatives to many of the conventional additives. In Asia, for example, there is a lot of discussion about azodicarbonamide as an oxidising agent. Flour improvers based on glucose oxidase can replace this additive.

Wengorz: In Russia, several fast food chains no longer want L-cysteine. As an alternative, proteases or inactivated yeast, like MC-Relax 400, can achieve similar relaxing effects.

Gradert:In Latin America, ADA has come under fire too. During contacts with customers I often hear that emulsifiers need to be reduced. The enzymatic solutions to the problem already exist, but bakeries sometimes lack the courage to use such alternatives in practice.


Why is that?

Gradert:Enzymes need rather more precise handling than emulsifiers, because their effect depends on several factors. For example, when esterases are used in the production of burger buns the fermentation time and temperature should be as consistent as possible to ensure consistent results in the baked products.

DATEM, SSL and monoglycerides are less sensitive. But as a rule, processing conditions in the baking industry are so standardised that the enzymes are fully suitable as a substitute for such additives. A further point in favour of enzymes is their excellent life cycle assessment because of the extremely low dosage required; environmental aspects of this kind are attracting more and more attention in the food industry, just they are as elsewhere.

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