A unique test known as solvent retention capacity is helping U.S. marketers demonstrate the advantages of their soft white wheat over wheat from competing countries.

The test determines a flour's ability to absorb water during the mixing process and release that water during the baking process.

It gives millers and bakers a "fingerprint" of how the flour will perform in products such as biscuits, cookies, pastries or cakes, said Peter Lloyd, regional technical director in Casablanca, Morocco, for U.S. Wheat Associates, the overseas marketing arm of the industry.

Art Bettge, a Moscow, Idaho, wheat consultant, said the test is one of the fastest, best indicators of wheat's end-use quality. The testing is widely used by companies in Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. 

Other standard industry tests don't indicate end-use function, Bettge said. 

Some mills in Southeast Asia are now blending and sorting their flours for function according to SRC values, Bettge said.

Those mills can sell their flour at a premium because it will perform better for bakers, who are willing to pay that price because customers will like their products better, Bettge said.

"It's an economic benefit for everyone to do this testing and start buying, marketing, selling, utilizing flour for its real functionality instead of just shooting blind, as we have been for the past 520 years now," he said.

The test clearly demonstrates a difference between U.S. wheat, which has a distinct advantage and is consistently superior, and competing wheat, which might be less expensive, but doesn't perform as well, Bettge said.

The U.S. wheat industry has long promoted the quality of its crop.

"This kind of puts it up on a billboard in big letters," Bettge said.

Solvent retention capacity analysis was developed by chemists at Nabisco, now Mondeléz. Nabisco made the test public in 2000, sharing it with the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

More wheat food manufacturers are looking for ways to "clean up" their ingredient labels, Lloyd said. 

"We can show SRC results to millers and bakers that prove straight flour from U.S. soft white and soft red winter can make beautiful end products without any 'magic powder' such as enzymes that have to be added to medium protein wheat flour to make cakes, biscuits and pastries," he said.

So far, the testing is primarily used on soft wheat classes.

Bettge is eager to get back on the road, post COVID-19 pandemic, and talk with overseas buyers about newer, similar testing capabilities  to estimate end-use functionality for hard wheats.

Several U.S. Wheat offices have conducted SRC workshops with local milling and baking customers. The team of technical experts in South Asia produced an online workshop in 2020.

Many offices plan to continue workshops when in-person meetings resume.

SRC analysis is also part of the course work in U.S. Wheat's cookie and cracker technology course at the UFM Baking School in Bangkok, Thailand.

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