Taste test missing ingredient

Proof is in the pudding: A test loaf of bread in the hand of a six-year-old. Photo: Ingrid Roth.
Proof is in the pudding: A test loaf of bread in the hand of a six-year-old. Photo: Ingrid Roth.

There's a lot of behind the scenes research that goes into making sure new wheat varieties are up to scratch when it comes to eating quality.

Strangely though, while dough and test loaves have a number of hurdles to pass in terms of visual and physical attributes – the finished product isn't subject to an official taste test.

That's something that wheat breeder Meiqin Lu would like to see change, particularly as the market for handmade and artisan products grows.

Wheat breeder: Dr Meiqin Lu works for Australian Grain Technologies (AGT) and wants to look at taste testing.

Wheat breeder: Dr Meiqin Lu works for Australian Grain Technologies (AGT) and wants to look at taste testing.

Dr Lu works for Australian Grain Technologies (AGT), Australia's largest plant breeding company, and is based at the Plant Breeding Institute, Narrabi.

"We actually do a lot of quality testing on new wheat varieties," she said.

Baking test loaves happens in the third stage of a cultivar's development – after the strain has exhibited desirable traits in the paddock like high yield and good disease resistance.

"We start with about 200 lines and bake a lot of little loaves," she said. 

"But only 20 or 30 lines of wheat will progress to the next level."

Development: Wheat doesn't make it to the test baking stage until it has been assessed for a number of attributes first.

Development: Wheat doesn't make it to the test baking stage until it has been assessed for a number of attributes first.

Different baking methods – including sponge, straight and rapid dough – are used to assess the volume, texture, and structure of the dough and bread. 

Attributes like the flour's ability to absorb water and the milling extraction rate are particularly important parts of the evaluation equation.

"We actually don't taste test at the moment,” Dr Lu said.

“The classification and testing requirements haven’t changed for a long time and are based on domestic market requirements and international market requirements. Taste testing isn’t considered essential and isn’t on the criteria at this stage. It hasn't been done in bread, but mouth feel is important when testing wheat for noodles."

Growing, harvesting and milling hundreds of different wheat samples individually without any cross contamination provides a logistical challenge to staff.

"The milling process is quite slow and they can only process about seven or eight samples each day for testing," she said.

Dr Lu would like to work with bakers and other researchers on a project to consider taste when testing cultivars at the baking stage and look at ways to develop specialty bread wheats that appeal to these high-end markets.