Protein is the scaffolding upon which bread is built. Even in baked goods that may not depend on protein for their structure — such as cookies and cakes — it still influences the texture consumers come to expect from the finished product. Being so critical to structure and final texture means protein inevitably affects the dough’s machinability as well.

“The gluten matrix in bakery products is critical to both processing and the final texture,” said Brook Carson, vice-president of product development and marketing, Manildra USA. “Adding protein to baked foods will affect dough handling by impacting the strength of the gluten matrix and overall moisture retention. Any added ingredient that may disrupt the gluten matrix or interfere with hydration, whether that is protein, fiber or a hydrocolloid, will impact dough handling.”

With protein skyrocketing in popularity and consumers thinking they need more, it’s become a preferred ingredient to bulk up foods in all categories. However, because of protein’s functionality in baked goods, it cannot be added without care and consideration. Extra protein can have serious ramifications that need formula or process adjustment to create a product that can be successfully machined and still be acceptable to consumers.

General functionality

The basis of most conventional baked goods is wheat flour because of the protein found in wheat. Its functionality is so critical that it has been difficult to replicate in formulations where it is missing.

“Wheat protein has unique functionality that creates the extensibility and elasticity central to the finished product texture of most traditional baked goods,” said Vance Lamb, technical services representative, ADM Milling. This balance between extensibility and elasticity also allows the dough to be stretched and worked while still maintaining its overall structure.

This structure — and the extensibility and elasticity — happen when proteins are hydrated. In a mixing bowl, the native proteins in flour absorb water, which help them bond chemically to create the gluten that develops baked goods’ most unique structure and qualities.

As Ody Maningat, PhD, vice-president, ingredients R&D, MGP Ingredients, explained, wheat gluten is a complex binary mixture of gliadin and glutenin proteins. To form the dough systems’ protein network, gliadin and glutenin undergo sulfhydryl/disulfide interchange in the mixer. This plus hydrophobic interactions and elevated hydrogen-bonding capacity from high level of glutamine provide the basis for the formation of web-like protein network. Hydration unlocks this potential.

“Hydration is a key for functionality,” Ms. Carson said. “To optimize the functionality of gluten, it should be fully hydrated. That will allow the protein to provide the best rheological characteristics.” Those characteristics include extensibility and elasticity, directly linking a dough’s machinability to the hydration happening in the mixing bowl.

To learn more about protein’s functions in baked goods, go to Baking Business.