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Photo: Soft wheats are used for cookies, crackers, and flat breads. Link to photo information
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Test Allows New Subclass of Soft Wheat for Everything from Crackers to Flat-Bread

By Don Comis
March 22, 2002

Because of interest in releasing a new subclass of soft wheats with enhanced dough mixing strength for crackers, Agricultural Research Service scientists are now using a new industry test to screen for “soft but strong” wheat varieties.

Nabisco, Inc., created the test recently by adapting an old but innovative ARS test.

Many cracker-makers have to add hard wheat flour to their soft wheat flour to raise the dough mixing strength that gives crackers their structure. The industry would prefer to use 100 percent soft wheat flour, partly to save costs. But soft wheat can’t be counted on for mixing strength, a quality believed to be only in hard wheat.

In the 1940s, Karl F. Finney, a chemist at the ARS Soft Wheat Quality Research Unit in Wooster, Ohio, developed a quick “lactic acid test” to screen breeders’ samples for mixing strength. It centrifuged flour in a 5-percent lactic acid/water solution. The strongest flours weigh the most because they absorb the most acid/water solution.

Recently, Louise Slade and Harry Levine, both food polymer scientists at Nabisco, Inc., created a new test based on Finney’s and used it to find a soft but strong winter wheat variety. They use the test to search for more varieties and--together with companion tests--to systematically evaluate potential baking quality. Each year, the Wooster researchers receive about 6,000 samples of new soft wheat lines that are in early stages of development.

The U.S. bread industry uses hard wheat. But if the new soft wheat subclass comes into being, it could change that by competing for some of the bread market, particularly for the flat-bread market, including tortillas and pocket breads.

More information can be found in the March 2002 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

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