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Advanced wheat flour purity test developed at Kansas State University gaining recognition globally

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


MANHATTAN — A technical advance in the flour milling industry by Kansas State University researchers and industrial partners in Brazil is garnering international attention.

An article by Mark Boatwright, doctoral candidate in biochemistry, and David Wetzel, professor of grain science and industry, both research analytical chemists, was translated and published July 7 in the German journal Mühle + Mischfutter. The article was co-written with E.S. Posner of ESP International in Israel, and Ricardo Lopes, Bunge Ltd. in Brazil. The German translation is of their article "Profiling Endosperm Purity of Commercial Mill Streams by Debranning Using Quantitative Chemical Imaging" that first appeared in the journal Cereal Foods World in fall 2015.

The article's German translation is significant, Wetzel said, because Swiss-made milling equipment is used worldwide, and the engineers who install and maintain this equipment read the German journal.

Boatwright and Wetzel developed a chemical imaging method that can help mills assure the purity of the wheat flour produced will meet baking industry standards and consumers' expectations. The method measures the chemical and molecular structural differences between the endosperm, which makes up more than 80 percent of the inside of a wheat kernel, and the nonendosperm, which is the hard, outer layer of the kernel.

"Our research, which involved a cooperative effort to determine wheat flour endosperm purity for an industrial milling operation in Brazil, was the first experiment of its kind," Wetzel said. "When this method was applied to the milling operation, it enabled the optimization and fine-tuning of the milling machinery for maximum efficiency and pure flour output."

Before the two researchers developed their analytical flour purity methodology, an indirect measure of impurity had been used in the milling industry that involved determining mineral content of the residual nonendosperm.

"Because the mineral content of nonendosperm is greater that the mineral content of endosperm, having a low ash — or inorganic chemical content — value was traditionally regarded as the 'indicator of merit' in milling," Wetzel said.

But the problem with this method, Wetzel said, is that ash value is dependent upon the soil mineral content where the wheat is grown and varies from location to location. Several factors, including today's current global export and import of grains, make that ash measurement no longer practical for determining endosperm purity, Wetzel said.

"Improved analytical methods to measure product purity are the key to maximize processing efficiency," Wetzel said. "This applies directly to the huge, worldwide wheat milling and backing industry. The ability to measure small differences in purity for as many as 44 flour streams in a commercial mill enables adding 1 percent more product of the wheat milled," Wetzel said. "Although 1 percent may appear to be insignificant, the potential cumulative economic benefit is huge, especially since most commercial flour mills operate 24 hours a day for more than 300 days per year."

Wetzel anticipates the article will be translated into Turkish soon; Turkey also manufactures milling equipment.


David Wetzel


Grain science and industry