Little tongues, squid-like, elbows, moustache-like things and large snails; these are all direct translations from Italian for some of our favourite pasta shapes.
When we think about wheat we naturally think about bread, buns, cakes, croissants and biscuits, this is understandable as a large proportion of the world's wheat is converted into flour to manufacture these products. The end use of the wheat will depend on its protein levels. The higher protein levels will go into bread manufacture and the lower qualities (around a quarter) will enter the supply chain as animal feed.
However, to follow on from the opening sentence, one of the wheat varieties that contains the highest level of protein is Durum wheat, the basis for pasta.
From the factory to your plate
The supply chain for pasta production is relatively simple. Grow it, harvest it, deliver it, process it and sell it. It is still worth exploring, as if you find out the costs of these stages and you have a great "should cost model" to work with.
Durum Wheat Intake
The durum wheat is transported to the processing facility where it is sampled, weighed, cleaned (passing through magnets) and then stored once its grade has been established.
The foreign bodies that are removed are weed seeds, dirt, stone and the outer most layers of the wheat kernels. The wheat passes from a size separator, a destoner and gravity table, and then a shape cylinder. The outer layer of bran is removed by friction with the help of a scourer. The bran can then be sold on for profit to the animal feed industry.
Water is added to toughen the outer bran coats for easier separation from the endosperm. This tempering process also helps to soften the endosperm for grinding.
The Milling Process
The wheat is then milled. The normal expectation of flour yield of around 60%, this is far lower than bread wheat which can have a yield of 75% and upwards. Grinding is done on break rolls, sizing rolls and reduction rolls. Sifters and purifiers will then separate the semolina from the additional bran.
Semolina is mixed with water or egg to form lumpy dough. The dough is not fully developed until it passes from the mixing chamber into the extruder.
Dough is forced, under high pressure through various shaped dies, to produce the wide range of different shapes of pasta products.
Drying is the final processing stage that is the crucial part of the process for production of high quality pasta products. Humidity, air flow and temperature are carefully controlled as the pasta passes through several dryers. Cooling chambers the return the dry pasta to normal atmosphere conditions.
Following drying the pasta stored, cut, packaged and sent to your local distribution center.
Current state of the market
The USA is, after the EU and Canada, the world's third largest producer and exporter of durum wheat. US durum wheat production for 2011/12 is estimated at 1.4m tonnes, down 51% on the stated output in 2009/10. The US durum grain harvest area is set at 1.32m acres, 48% less than the previous year. US durum wheat yields are set at 39.3 bushels per acre, down 3.1 bushels down 2.8 bushels from 2010, but these yields are still the third highest on record, behind only 2009 and 2010.
According to the North Dakota wheat board, improved warm and dry conditions have helped this year's harvest; average protein was put at 13.9% and test weighed at 59.3 pounds per bushel (77.3kg/hl). Total defects were slightly lower at 2.8% and the No. 2 Hard Amber durum crop was graded with a good average virtuousness of 88.7%.
- Nick Peksa, Mintec Ltd.