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The taste of bread : Download the technical notebook

The Taste of Bread

The flavour of a bread reflects the baker’s passion for his work. By putting his creativity to its best effect, the baker becomes a key player concerning the taste of his products, which all bear his own distinctive «signature». Lesaffre provides with expert sensory and technical support for professionals in the bakery, offering a wide products line, to help them customize their breads and pastries.

About the word taste ...

The brain, in a way, is the real seat of taste because it concentrates the various sensory experiences. But how do they get there? Try an experiment: put a piece of bread on your tongue and your tongue and nose go into action immediately. The taste buds spread all over the tongue recognise a series of flavours: sugar, salt, acidity and bitterness among many others. This combination of tastes and aromas is called «flavour». Moreover, a food eaten hot does not have the same taste as when eaten cold. Finally, there are physical perceptions, such as whether a food is crispy or soft.

Taste is so complex that it makes use of all five senses: smell, touch, sight and sound as well as taste itself. Haven’t some senses - such as the sense of balance - been left out of this classification?...

The brain keeps a personal record of products we consume, together with the level of pleasure we experience from them. For example, some clients think a baguette with pointed ends is better than the same baguette without pointed ends. Appearance influences our senses. Sensory panels try to understand this phenomenon by starting with the simple statements « I like it » or « I don’t like it » and then trying to interpret the reasons that lead to this fee-ling.

Ideas evolve and sometimes we can help to change values. Twenty years ago white bread was highly thought of, but these days it is rejected if it is too white. The reason for this lies in the cultural associations of the product.

It is difficult to find a word for every sensory perception. As individuals have their own words, their own vocabulary and above all, their own way of seeing things. The language used to describe the taste of bread is often constructed by borrowing pseudo descriptions.

«At Lesaffre we have established a precise lexicon for the sensory analysis of several clearly defined types of breads. » explains Camille Dupuy, who is in charge of sensory analysis by Lesaffre. A clear distinction can be made between different textures, such as sticky, spongy, aerated or crumbly.

From fermentation to the cultivation of taste

The process of fermentation lies at the heart of complex food products. Through the mastery of fermentation, the three major types of fermented foods - bread, wine and cheese - (to which can be added uncooked salami-type meat products) create an alliance which gives pleasure while satisfying our fundamental need for food. Fermentation is very useful: it conserves foodstuffs, makes them more digestible and decreases their glycaemic index while in-creasing the availability of micronutrients. At the same time, it leads to the production of aromatic molecules. The characteristic flavour which develops is olfactory proof of a good fermentation well carried out. The taste of a good bread reflects the quality of its production. In order to make good quality bread the baker must choose his ingredients - yeast, flour and other ingredients - and must fully master the control of the production process - kneading, fermentation and baking.

Creating taste in breadmaking

The baker is a real artist in the creation of taste, drawing on a palette of varied ingredients and using different fermentation techniques to typify and personalise his breads and pastries.

A palette of ingredients

The most obvious way of diversifying the quality of bread is to play around with its composition and the type of cereals used. The most obvious way of diversifying the quality of bread is to play around with its composition and the type of cereals used. It is thus possible to reinforce the grilled», «roasted» or «sugary» notes, to guide one’s taste towards an acidic flavour or to mask other tastes.

Taking things one step further, sourdough derivatives in either dried or liquid form are very simple to use because they are mixed directly into the dough. In recent years the use of yeast derivatives has been greatly developed.

Fermentation, the natural way to taste

The primary function of fermenting agents such as yeasts and bacteria is to make the dough rise.
By partially consuming the sugars in the flour the natural metabolism of these micro-organisms produces carbon dioxide and ethanol which cause an increase in volume during baking.
The production of these components is accompanied by the release of a large number of flavour molecules. The quantity produced varies ac-cording to other factors such as the flour and other ingredients, the kneading, water content, length and temperature of fermentation, etc.
These reveal themselves during baking. Finally, there over 200 molecules that make up the taste of bread.

Raising agents, a new step towards originality

The use of raising agents in breadmaking generates the richest tastes. However, the use of natural raising agents requires a high level of organisation. These days there is a complete range of ready-to-use raising agents.

The impact of breadmaking methods

Kneading - a fair compromise

Intensive kneading produces white bread with good volume but little taste. However, slow kneading produces a dough with limited volume that is unsuitable for production of the small items, such as baguettes and rolls. The important thing is to stop kneading before the dough becomes white.

The order in which the ingredients are added has some effect on the taste. The inclusion of salt right at the start of the kneading process has a positive effect, as the salt will be perfectly distributed in the dough and can effectively limit oxidation.

Fermentation - a taste factory

Fermentation is evidence of the second major taste factor.
There are two main types of fermentation in baking:

  • Fermentation with raising agents: this encourages the development of yeasts and bacteria naturally present in the flour and in the atmosphere, which assist in the natural fermentation of the dough.
  • • Fermentation with yeast: industrially cultivated “yeast” is made up of billions of cells of the same strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Fermentation with selected strains will produce exactly the same results from one batch to the next.

Three techniques are normally used with yeast:

  • The direct method: this is the simplest method in which the yeast is added directly into the kneading machine. To allow the development of flavours it is essential to use the correct quantity of yeast and to control the length of the fermentation programme.
  • Working with fermented dough : this consists of adding dough from a previously kneaded batch in a quantity varying from 100 to 500 g per litre of mixture. The previously kneaded paste should be added half way through the kneading process, in order to avoid spoiling the taste by over-kneading.
  • « Poolish » : The poolish method gives a slight acidity. It produces soft bread, somewhat like brioche, and is particularly chewy.


From consumer to analytical approach

Product development depends on the judgement of sensory analysis panels, as well as on complementary techniques of chromatography, mass spectrometry and olfactometry.

The relationship between the expert and the consumer

The smell, taste, flavour and texture of bread are the consumer’s major quality criteria and are naturally the main concern of the bakery. As there is no measuring equipment that can precisely evaluate these criteria, tasting panels are used. The market is influenced by innovation and fashion.

Complex research tools

To analyse an odour extracted from bread it is necessary to separate and then identify the different components of the aroma. The separation is performed by a gas chromatograph, a device that allows the vaporization of aroma molecules. Two types of detectors are used to identify them:

  • The mass spectrometer, to give a name to the molecules detected;
  • The human nose, to evaluate the odorous strength of these molecules.

Mass spectrometry based on ionization and fragmentation of molecules. We obtain a mass spectrum characteristic of a compound. However, the molecules identified are not necessarily those that influence the smell of the bread.
The olfactometry, complete the analysis, by submitting a mixture of volatile odorous components to the human nose.


Olfactometry at Lesaffre

Lesaffre has a «nose» panel composed of about twenty people, selected for their sensory capacities and their cognitive skills (good memory of smells). First of all they develop together a common vocabulary of descriptions of pure components for reference. It is possible to identify the molecules that play an important role in the smell of a given product.

Sensory analysis at Lesaffre

The preferences of bread consumers leading to a purchase include individual parameters such as mood and social context, the purchase environment at the point of sale, the presentation of the bread and, above all, the sensory characteristics of the bread.
But can one explain and anticipate consumers’ reactions? This is the objective of sensory analysis, which contributes to the development of new products through testing by tasting panels.

In Conclusion

Bread has frequently been compared to wine and cheese. It is true that what these three foodstuffs have in common is that fermentation plays an essential part in their development, particularly in the synthesis of their aromas. Bread, which is a basic nutritional staple when buying power is low, becomes an accompaniment when the standard of living rises. For some time now, rather than being an « essential », bread and the « pleasure » derived from its taste have been considered as accessories.

With the huge selection now on offer bread has become a food of character and has confirmed its right to be the centre of interest. It is not just « tasted » with cheese but agreeably complements most foods. It can even be eaten on its own, just for pleasure!

These days, the art of making tasty bread can be pursued with a large palette of different resources. Physico-chemical analytical tools, an understanding of bread flora and mastery of the production of live micro-organisms enable us to offer bakers products that guarantee performance, are easy to use, reliable and safe so that they can create quality bread with excellent taste, but also with a good shelf life, texture and appearance.

It is up to bakers to make full use of their creative talents and skills, and up to scientists and manufacturers of fermentation agents to give them the tools that they need.

It is in pursuit of this logic and in this environment that Lesaffre carry on with the development of their products and techniques, motivated by: « the cultivation of taste in breadmaking ».