How to read the Italian flour datasheet
I’ll start immediately by telling you that any flour’s technical datasheet is the set of information that characterizes it.
You can call it flour datasheet or spec sheet, sometimes also known as FoodStuff. They all have the same meaning.
By reading and understanding these data, you can understand if that flour is suitable to create the product you want.
Not all flour spec sheets are the same. It often happens that some mills (especially these days) decide to put a lot more information. Perhaps data related to the origin of the wheat or the packaging methodology…
In any case, the essential data that must be present in the flour’s technical datasheet concerns the rheological properties. The latter is calculated through laboratory experiments, which I will discuss later.
In its simplest, almost advertising form, a flour datasheet could look like this:
- How to read the Italian flour datasheet
- Elements that should not be missing from the flour datasheet
- Strength tenacity and extensibility
- Falling Number FN
- Examples of technical flour datasheets
- Pasini flour 00
- Casillo flour 00
Elements that should not be missing from the flour datasheet
Just keep in mind: we are talking about types of Italian flours. Flours made in other countries could have totally different rules.
I recently visited a mill that makes organic flours, located in a little Canadian city. The information they give about the flours they produce is practically non-existent. The only thing they guarantee is that the flour is organic. This is an interesting fact, but that puts me back to square one.
I think this is one of the many reasons contributing to Italian flours’ success around the world. Not only for the quality of the grain blends; also for the details that are supplied to the final operator through the technical data FoodStuff provided for the product.
Going back to the point, the following data should not be missing from the technical datasheet:
- Type (00, 0, 1, 2, wholemeal)
- Humidity expressed as a percentage
- Protein value
- Strength, tenacity and extensibility
- Falling Number and stability
To quote Italian law.
The Decree of 9th February 2011 no. 187.
This is how it is articulated:
“The release for consumption of soft wheat flour with a moisture content of up to 15.50 percent is tolerated provided that the relevant label bears the words “maximum moisture content 15.50 percent”.SOURCE – https://www.politicheagricole.it/flex/files/2/f/6/D.34ca305e98ded6c87bfc/DPR_187_2001.pdf
Some technical datasheets indicate the maximum humidity required by law 15.5%. Flours with higher humidity cannot be marketed (in Italy). Other data sheets are more precise and indicate a different percentage.
Humidity is essential for 2 main reasons.
The first is absorption.
Flour with a low percentage of humidity will have a higher absorption.
The second reason concerns the preservation of the product.
The flour bags are often exposed to temperature changes during their journey from the mill to the final operator. For this reason, flours with a high percentage of humidity will be more likely to develop mould.
General advice can therefore be to buy flour with a low percentage of humidity.
Proteins express an exciting fact, but not definitive for the choice of a flour over another.
The proteins in the flour are divided into soluble and insoluble.
Among the latter, you’d find the gliadin and glutenin, which combine to form gluten.
The so-called “ancient grains” often have a good protein value but low gluten (i.e. insoluble protein). On the other hand, modern grains tend to have good gluten content.
To put it briefly: protein alone is irrelevant for “interpreting” flour. What you need is to know the type of protein. To answer this question, studies are carried out to evaluate the “strength” of flour.
PS: the protein data becomes interesting when you are using flour, perhaps foreign, the strength of which you do not know. So you usually think that high protein content implies high gluten content. Which is not always true, but in principle, you can believe in this way.
Strength tenacity and extensibility
The strength of flour is one of the most interesting data. It is indicated by the letter W. It can be deduced from laboratory studies carried out with a machine called “Chopin Alveograph.”
Many foreign mills do not have this machinery, so they produce flour without calculating the W.
How the Alveograph works, in short
You make dough with the flour object of investigation. This dough is cut into round discs, which are placed on a cylinder. A jet of air coming out of the cylinder inflates the disc, creating a bubble that breaks at a certain point. A graph, called the Alveogram, records all the action.
This graph gives us three essential data.
W – Strength of flour. Which is the area below the curve on the graph
P – Stretch resistance. Which is the height of the curve.
L – Extensibility. Which is the length of the curve, up to the breaking point (when the dough breaks under the action of the air coming from the cylinder).
From the three data obtained, the strength of flour (W) is probably the most well known. It is increasingly “advertised” today!. It expresses the capacity that flour can endure with kneading and subsequent leavening.
The strength is directly linked to the amount of water that the flour can absorb, and the gluten network that it can develop.
Each bakery product requires a suitable W.
The below picture, from the interesting Italian article by Dario Bressanini, makes the point.
From two of the three data seen above (W, P, L), we get another significant one: the P/L index. The latter indicates the ratio between resistance and deformation: to be balanced, it must be between 0.4 and 0.7. To be more precise, I would say that, for weak flours, the balanced ratio is between 0.4 and 0.6; for strong flours, I would say that the balanced range is between 0.5 and 0.7.
A balanced flour will produce a dough with a good volume and a proportionate structure.
In practice, we see 2 antipodes cases of P/L:
P/L higher than 0,70.
It indicates that the mixture will be tenacious and difficult to work; the final product has little volume and a compact crumb.
The alveograph-curve (also called alveogram) will be short and will develop in height.
P/L less than 0.40.
Indicates a flour that will create an extensible and sticky dough.
The alveogram has a graph that extends in length and remains low.
In this image, see the 2 cases mentioned in comparison.
Falling Number FN
Flour contains enzymes: amylases; these convert starch (complex sugar) into maltose and glucose (simple sugars).
The falling number (FN) indicates the alpha-amylase activity, therefore the speed at which complex sugars are transformed into simple sugars.
Instead of explaining how the FN study is done, I want you to imagine something else.
Imagine a tube, placed vertically, with some chains inside it floating randomly in a vacuum space. If you flip a coin into the top end of the tube, it will run through it, bouncing between the chains. The longer the chains in the tube, the more the coin will bounce, and the longer will be the time the coin takes to reach the other end of the tube.
Do you have that image in your head?
Chains are complex sugars. The amylases are inside the tube, breaking the chains into smaller pieces. The higher the amylase activity, the faster the chains “break down.” Therefore, the less friction the coin finds and, consequently, the lower the time of its journey.
Why is this of any interest to us? If I know that the amylase activity is low, I can consider using some boosters to stimulate fermentation (like malt); or I can think about using some technique, like autolysis.
Examples of technical flour datasheets
Let me begin by showing you the Type 00 Caputo Pizzeria flour’s technical data sheet.
This data sheet is very well designed. It starts by mentioning the general data.
Here it mentions the origin of the grain, packaging, type of bag used for the packaging of the flour, the origin of the product, humidity, expiry date, content in Kg of the bag…
Let’s move on to
These are the ones we are most interested in when baking. These properties are mentioned in all professional flour produced by Italian mills.
PS: foreign mills often do not report these data because they do not do these studies. They do not have the equipment to do the necessary tests.
Caputo adds a second page, where it highlights:
Residues and microparticles
I apologize but I only have a photo of the second page in the Italian language. It refers to Caputo “Tipo 0”, 100% Italian grains:
I must tell you that a data sheet of this type is far too detailed. Almost distracting, I would say.
Pasini flour 00
Look at this
datasheet of flour 00 Verde di Molino Pasini.
Less picturesque, with less data, but with all the information needed to evaluate the product and its use.
Casillo flour 00
Now take a look at this datasheet of Napoli 00 flour from the Casillo mill.
Even more summarized, but with all the data, the baker, or pizza maker, needs to use it.