The bread of the future: tough dough?


In the framework of the BIOFAIR project, researchers from ULiège Gembloux Agro Bio-Tech and the University of Ghent worked together with Drossche Mills to test the bread baking quality of flour made from wheat which was grown under present and expected future climatic conditions.

At the beginning of this collaboration stands a field experiment in Clermont-Ferrand, Auvergne, France, managed by the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE). In replicated micro-parcels, different winter wheat varieties are grown under current environmental conditions (ambient atmospheric CO2 and well-watered), as well as under those environmental conditions foreseen to impact plant production systems in the very near future: elevated CO2 and drought.

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During the plant growth season, the researchers closely monitored plant performance, notably nitrogen uptake, and also studied belowground processes like root development and soil microbial activity. At harvest, the grains were analysed for their vitamin B and micronutrient contents, along with baking quality traits like starch and protein concentrations. Moreover, technical parameters like flour viscosity and tenacity were quantified before the milled grains were finally turned into real breads in the R&D labs of Dossche Mills.

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Here, a standardised bread baking test was performed, during which various quality parameters like the volume and rise of the breads, their softness and the distribution of air bubbles are determined. A small panel of scientists and students also evaluated taste and crispiness. “In this variety, I can clearly taste a difference between the breads made of grains grown under elevated CO2 and the control”, notices Gaelle Kirbas, Master student from Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech. The team also noticed a pronounced difference in colour between the breads made from different wheat varieties, that is to say one wheat variety makes breads that are clearly more yellow than the others. To get further insights to the gastronomic potential of the wheat of the future, subsamples of grains were also sent to an expert panel in Spain. Watch how they evaluate the BIOFAIR breads on YouTube.



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Meanwhile, in the lab, the BIOFAIR researchers were surprised to see such striking differences between the breads made from different wheat varieties. “Most of the parameters monitored in the field and in the lab were primarily affected by climate, and differed only marginally between the different wheat varieties” says David Cao, researcher at Ghent University “so I am super surprised to see such a clear variety effect in the bread baking test!” Some varieties are suitable for bread baking no matter the environmental conditions the plants are grown in, while other varieties make smaller or less stable loafs when the plants are exposed to drought for example.  “We observe this actually quite often “, says Jeroen De Vrient from Dossche Mills. “Bread baking quality is closely correlated with flour protein content, but also depends on the exact composition of the different amino acids” explains the agronomist, “and the exact composition of proteins can vary as a function of the plant genotype and it’s ability to cope with climate stress.”

Exciting insights and new research tracks for the BIOFAIR project!

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