Humidity In Food Production: Baking And Bread

Welcome to part 3 of our humidity in food production series, where we look at all the areas of food production that rely heavily on humidity control. If you haven’t read the first few already, you can read part 1 here (crops and harvesting), and part 2 here (meat production). But today, we wanted to look into a slightly different area of food production – one that requires a bit more human intervention. Baking and bread production.

 

Humidity and Baked Goods

 

In our previous articles, we’ve talked about how humidity control allows produce to be kept fresh and cool, improving quality for the consumer and profit margins for the producer. But in the baking industry, humidity control plays a slightly different role.

 

When you consider the types of breads found around the world, you will notice that their regional climate has a pretty big influence over their characteristics when baked. For example, crusty breads tend to come from arid dry, barren areas, while soft breads will come from more humid regions. And even if a bakery can import the best ingredients for around the world, they can’t import a climate to go with them. So if they want those characteristics in their bread, they need to be able to replicate those conditions in their bakery. That’s the primary purpose of humidity control in the bread baking world, and it impacts the production of bread in 3 ways: storage, dough proofing, and baking.

 

Bread Storage

 

The need for a controlled environment in a bakery actually starts before you bake a single thing. Many of the ingredients required for baking bread perform their best and maintain their quality when relative humidity levels are lower and temperatures are cooler. For example, yeast is extremely perishable when exposed to moisture and heat, so it needs to be kept in a cool, dry environment until it’s ready to be used. Other ingredients will start to oxidise as the relative humidity gets lower, which means they will absorb more water and begin to grow mould. Most baking ingredients will also last longer at cooler temperatures and lower humidity, so keeping them in a controlled environment will vastly improve their shelf life.

 

Storage can also make or break a bake once it’s cooked. Overly humid conditions will soften crisp crusts, make crisp crackers lose their crunch or inhibit the drying of dough (which is essential for good pasta). Baked goods will develop mould rapidly in humid conditions, but if the environment becomes too hot and dry, then you risk drying out goods that need to stay moist, like cakes and rolls. The only way to ensure a bakery environment stays at the correct humidity and temperature for the entire baking process is with a professional humidity control system.

 

Dough Proofing

 

A quick rundown – proofing is the process used to take bread-based products from a batter to a risen, air-filled dough. Once the ingredients have been mixed to form a dough, it will be left for a certain period of time to ‘rest’. During this time, the yeast within the dough ferments, creating air pockets and expanding the size of the dough. Without a good rise, breads can become flat, dense and chewy (and if you don’t believe us, just watch bake off!!) But yeast is a living organism, which means it’s very sensitive to its environment. Everything from the water content in the dough, the temperature of the room it’s being proofed in and the relative humidity can have an impact on how the yeast ferments. To ensure this process goes smoothly and produces a consistent result, many bakers will use a proofing cabinet or a dough fermentation room – in which they can exactly control the environment. To ferment properly the average dough requires a relative humidity of at least 75-80%, but it can vary depending on the variety of bread being baked. This means you not only need a tightly controlled environment, but one that you can change the temperature and RH of whenever you need to.

 

Baking

 

Then we get to the fun part – the baking! Baking goods involves a lot more than putting some dough in the oven. For example, did you know that the amount of water vapour in an oven affects the baking times, as well as the crust on the finished product? There are even some bread recipes that call for you to add a bath of water to the bottom of the oven to achieve a crispier crust. So the humidity of the air you’re baking in can have a big impact on the quality of your finished goods.

 

Bakerpedia explains that forced convection ovens have relative humidity levels of 30 to 60 percent with lower temperatures. Natural convection ovens have humidity levels of 90 to 95 percent with higher temperatures. When humidity levels are higher, baking times are longer because moisture evaporation and gluten coagulation in the crust slow. Arid conditions can cause goods to over-bake, making them too tough.  So really, the best humidity level for a bakery depends on what it’s baking at the time. That means they need to be able to control the conditions of their bakery at all times, regardless of the actual weather conditions outside.

 

That’s what we do. At Humidity Solutions, we supply humidity control solutions to farms, cold stores, bakeries and more – helping provide the perfect environment for proofing and baking, every time. If you would like to know more, just get in touch with us today.

The Role Of Humidity Control In Meat Production

In our last blog, we talked about the role humidity control plays in our produce industry. More specifically, how humidity control systems help keep crops fresh from the moment they are picked to when they hit your dinner table. If you haven’t read that one yet, you can find it here. Today we wanted to carry on this series by looking at a different area of the food production cycle – meats! You see, humidity control isn’t just essential in the crop growing industry. It’s also important for meat production, specifically in abattoirs and charcuterie facilities to hugely reduce financial losses and waste.

 

Abattoir Humidity

Abattoirs are an essential part of the meat production industry, but the main problem most facilities face is waste. As meat is brought in and processed, it is also cooled – taking it from a body temperature of 37°C down to 12°C in a 12-hour period. This helps the meat last longer, and preserves the quality of the cuts as they go through packaging and shipping. The problem is, during the cooling process a carcass can lose up to 3% of its total weight. While this might not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, it can make a real difference to the abattoir’s bottom line.

Let’s break that down a bit. On a full side of beef, 3% weight can be as much as 3kg. Meat products are generally bought and sold by weight, so 3kg loss on one side of beef is a pretty significant loss of profit. In fact, there is a calculation used to work this out:

Reduction in weight loss (kg) x the value of the product (£/kg) = money saved

Expand this over the course of a year, thousands of carcasses and hundreds of thousands of kg in lost weight, and the financial losses add up quickly. So naturally, abattoirs want to find ways to reduce the amount of moisture lost during prep and production. Humidity control is by far the simplest answer.

By installing humidifiers that produce very fine sprays from high-pressure water systems, abattoirs can surround carcasses with high humidity air – around 95%rh. This reduces the amount of moisture that evaporates from the meat and limits the amount of weight lost during refrigeration. Because the higher humidity air contains more water, the air around the carcass becomes a source of moisture, rather than a drain on it.

 

Charcuterie Production

Then we get to other sectors you might not have thought about. Charcuterie is one of those areas that humidity is often forgotten about. After all, it involves curing and drying meats, so why would you need to add moisture to the air? Well, it’s mainly because the environments for curing require strict levels of humidity and environmental control that can’t be achieved through domestic air conditioning systems. The meats used in charcuterie are predominantly made of muscle, which has a water content of around 75%. This means that in order to achieve proper drying, a RH of below 75% is essential. However, keep it below 70% and you risk drying the outside of the meat, which traps moisture inside the muscles and causes it to rot from the inside out. Regular temperature control systems simply can’t provide the level of close control charcuterie needs to be effective, which is why specialist humidity control systems are in such demand.

Humidity Solutions have delivered a bespoke humidification solution to the Chiltern Charcuterie in Buckinghamshire, which provides humidification for salami fermentation. Chiltern Charcuterie is a leading artisan producer, with award-winning salamis and air-dried charcuterie – butchering, curing, smoking and airdrying its own products using locally sourced meat. Their chosen solution uses an electrode boiler, compact steam humidifier that serves a 12m3 sealed fermentation room, using precise humidity controls to maintain the necessary conditions for quality and consistency. The humidifier provides up to 3kg/h of steam to maintain a precise 85% relative humidity and a temperature of 25°C. In a separate room designed for the drying process, a humidifier is working alongside a dehumidifier, which has been installed to ensure that the heavily moisture laden new product in the first stages of drying does not produce so much airborne moisture that it creates a mould problem. The desiccant dehumidifier controls the space at 80%rh, whilst the temperature is dropped to 12C. Chiltern

Charcuterie owner John Miller approached Humidity Solutions because of the company’s experience of designing tailored humidity control solutions. He recalled: “Humidity Solutions took the time to fully understand our requirements and propose the best solution – delivering the equipment within a few days. We are very pleased with the system and the service we received.”

 

So you see, humidity control is one of the most vital components in the entire food industry, and over the next few months we’ll continue to look at all the different areas humidification plays a part in protecting the food you eat. At Humidity Solutions, we supply humidity control solutions to abattoirs, cold stores, packaging plants and more – helping provide the perfect environment for meat production every time. If you would like to know more, just get in touch with us today.

 

Humidity Control – Keeping Crops Fresh From Farm To Table

The EU currently dedicated over 2.2 million hectares to growing vegetables and leafy produce, and over 3.2 million hectares to growing fruits. This produce is then picked, packed and shipped to countries all over the world – including the UK. But have you ever wondered how farmers and logistics companies manage to keep crops fresh and edible during this long process, and how they still have plenty of life in them when they arrive on your table? The answer is simple – humidification. Humidification solutions are important for two main areas of crop production: post-harvest crop care, and extending the shelf life of crops for purchase.

 

Post-Harvest Crop Care

Once crops have been harvested and other products created and packaged, they need to be transported to stores with enough life left in them to survive on the shelves. Humidification (also known as fogging) promoted faster, more efficient cooling, using less energy in the process. In post-harvest, ultrasonic humidity control solutions are the tool of choice, mainly because they use a finer water droplet size than high or low-pressure systems.

Keeping crops hydrated post-harvest is incredibly important, as it has a huge impact on their quality, their flavour and their lifespan. Once you separate the plants from their roots they will quickly dray out, especially in refrigerated environments that are designed to keep them from spoiling. You can’t avoid the refrigeration elements of harvesting, so instead farmers needed to focus on how to reduce the amount of moisture list post-harvest.

Trying to reduce the temperature of produce without dehydrating it is a common problem, especially when the main market uses refrigerated air-cooling systems to get the job done. If not handled properly refrigeration could damage delicate crops like herbs or other baby-leaf varieties through harsh cooling methods like blast chilling, leaving you with weak, dehydrated and broken produce. If you don’t believe us, one of the ways to tell how much your crops are being dehydrated is to measure the defrost water from the refrigeration system. It’s often alarming just how much water is being removed from products, simply through blast chilling. Of course, they could just add covers to their crops to manage airflow and minimise damage, but this isn’t a perfect solution.

The solution they came up with was called ‘fogging’. By ‘fogging’ the environment, transporters can sustain the life of these foods through natural hydration, using ultra-pure water in fog particles to reach into every corner and stop dehydration from occurring. This also allows producers to maximise the pick weight and yield, since the produce won’t lose its weight (and flavour) through dehydration. You can get both wet and dry fogging solutions, so produce can be protected at every stage, regardless of environment.

 

Extending Shelf Life

Once crops have gone through picking and packing, they need to be stored ready for transportation and somehow still arrive in shops with enough life to survive on the shelves and in the homes of buyers. With delicate crops like lettuce, this can present a real challenge – particularly if the crops were harvested a long distance away, or in a hot climate. Deterioration of produce can and does happen in transit, which just leads to more waste and reduced profits for farmers.

To overcome this, humidity control systems are needed at all stages of the produce’s life, starting in the picking trailer. By misting the field trailer, farmers can start the cooling process while the produce is still in the field, as soon as it had been picked. These misting devices produce a thin layer of moisture which can then evaporate during transit, stopping moisture being drawn from the produce itself.

Once the crops have been delivered into cold storage, most major growers, packers and shippers will then use an adiabatic crop hydration system to extend shelf life before shipping. These systems are now a standard part of all new-build cold storage units, but they can be retrofitted into old ones too. The idea is to humidify the air in the cold room to about 95% RH (Relative Humidity), and then fill the room with superfine purified water – to the point that it creates a visible fog. This allows moisture to fill every corner of the room using a vapour pressure system. Because the vapour pressure in the room is higher than the vapour pressure of the plants, it encourages the plants to draw in moisture through their stoma. This means that baby leaf crops, salad and brassicas can stay hydrated and field-fresh for up to 11 days, often coming out of cold storage in better condition than when it started! Given that most leafy produce will start to wilt after just 2 days in a normal environment, this is a huge improvement and a great way to improve the shelf life of produce, with no artificial chemicals or processes.

Humidity control is one of the most vital components in the entire food industry, and over the next few months we’ll be looking at different areas humidification plays a role in producing and protecting the food you eat.At Humidity Solutions, we supply humidity control solutions to farms, cold stores, packaging plants and more – helping provide the perfect environment for crop harvesting every time. If you would like to know more, just get in touch with us today.