Every great baker knows that using high quality ingredients is essential in creating delicious baked goods for their customers. Artisanal bakers constantly scrutinise the sources of their ingredients to ensure only the best components make it into their final products. One of the most often overlooked factors during baking is water. Water quality can significantly affect the taste and texture of baked goods. In fact, many bakers are convinced that water has a bigger impact on baked good quality than any other factor. One great example is New York City’s legendary tap water. From pizza to bagels, New York City is constantly lauded for its baked culinary delights. This leads many people to believe that the levels of calcium and magnesium hardness in the tap water is what makes their food so irresistible. Water hardness, along with other parameters such as pH and total dissolved solids, can all affect dough texture and development. Hardness is especially important as it directly affects the function of gluten in dough.
Since water represents nearly 40% of total dough mass in breads, the presence of any dissolved minerals in the water can significantly alter dough characteristics and bread quality. Generally, a hardness of 50-100 ppm calcium carbonate is considered ideal for baking. At these levels, mineral salts present in tap water have a strengthening effect on the gluten in the dough. Water with hardness above 200 ppm can slow down fermentation and overtighten gluten structure, which can make mixing difficult. Increasing the amount of yeast used in the dough can mitigate this.
On the other hand, soft water from 0-50 ppm calcium carbonate lacks the minerals needed to sufficiently strengthen gluten structure and can lead to a soft, sticky dough which is tough to mix. Soft water can also lead to shortened fermentation time and poor bread texture and colour. Bakers can add “mineral yeast food” to help stabilise the water with mineral salts and condition soft water.
An artisanal bakery contacted Hanna Instruments looking for a way to test the hardness of their baking water. They already had a water treatment system in place but wanted a simple, easy way to verify the effectiveness of the treatment. Hanna Instruments suggested the HI96735 Total Hardness Photometer. The customer appreciated that the low range method on the HI96735 was from 0 to 250 ppm CaCO₃, which encompassed their target range of 50 to 100 ppm. The simple operation allowed bakers to use the instrument with little technical knowledge. The built-in reaction timer removed much of the guesswork typically associated with photometric measurements, ensuring the reagent and sample reacted the optimal amount of time before measurement. In addition, the portable design took up very little bench space and made storage easy. Overall, the customer was satisfied with the instrument and was able to accurately monitor the hardness of their baking water. This led to increased consistency in the quality of their baked goods.