Artisan bread

Is it possible for companies to create delicate bread products by machine without sacrificing the exquisite structure and quality found in handmade bread? That’s exactly what Rheon set out to accomplish when it got its start in the baking industry back in 1963.

Rheon is a Japanese company built around the concept of rheology, “a science dealing with the deformation and flow of matter.” Based on this idea, Rheon developed the concept of “rheological engineering,” which the company describes as “the shaping of food” with equipment that preserves its delicate texture, taste, and aroma. Their philosophy is: “If your machines can't make a product that’s as good as, or better than, handmade, then you shouldn't be making it.”

To learn more about how baking equipment enables companies to make artisan bread on an industrial scale, we spoke with John Giacoio, Rheon USA’s VP of Sales. Giacoio has more than 35 years of experience in the baking industry, and in that time he’s gained insights that help bakeries flourish.

Speeding up artisan bread production

Up until recently, it seemed unlikely that the skill required for artisan breads like ciabatta, sourdough, and baguettes could ever be replicated by machines. Automation seems to oppose the very definition of artisan. After all, gourmet bread items are set apart by the careful methods used to make them, as well as their unique shapes and sizes.

But handmade bakeries can no longer keep up with consumer demand, and handcrafted bread requires time-consuming processes that are actually quite harsh on doughs. Doughs like ciabatta, for example, consist of 75% to 85% water and have a rest requirement of 2 to 3 hours, which allows the yeast to work and the dough to become airy. “Typically, a baker would have to pour out that dough onto a bench and cut pieces,” Giacoio explains. “The process of weighing it, throwing it onto a scale, and then adding or subtracting dough to hit the target weight — that damages the dough more than our machines.”

Rheon machines minimize dough damage via a chunking system that uses a dough hopper to handle and distribute the dough chunks onto a conveyor belt. The machine then gently massages those pieces back together to form a dough sheet. The dough sheet then travels down a conveyor with a load cell beneath so a guillotine can cut the pieces to the predetermined weight.

“We're doing less damage than picking it up and throwing it onto a bench or pouring it out onto a bench,” Giacoio says. “We're just putting it in a hopper. Our customers tell us that they didn't think it was possible, but they're getting a better quality product off of a machine.”

Stress-free sheeting

Sheeting and dough makeup equipment is specialized for products like pizza crust, croissants, donuts, and other food items that require shapes cut from large sheets of dough. To flatten dough for this purpose, some companies use compression rollers, which reduce the thickness of dough by running it through two large rollers. These traditional machines then divide blocks of dough into small portions to form shapes, requiring further processing and chemical additives to reinforce the dough structure.

Rheon has patented a Stress Free® System for sheeting that pulls the dough instead of compressing it. The system consists of 20 to 30 rollers holding the dough against three conveyor belts, which incrementally increase in speed to stretch out the dough. This puts less pressure on the dough, which helps retain the structure by not degassing it.

The Stress Free® System is also beneficial for laminated doughs, like what’s used to make croissants. It helps retain the fat and layers. Other methods crush the layers, which causes the fat to escape through the damaged dough during baking. Because of this, the manufacturer needs to add more layers in order to get the same volume in the end. By not crushing the layers, Rheon’s machines produce a less greasy and less costly product, because the bakers don't have to put in as many layers to get the volume they're looking for.

Giacoio knows this all sounds too good to be true. “Croissant makers look at you like you're crazy when you tell them that Rheon’s machines can reduce the number of layers in their croissants by 20%,” he says. “It’s just one of those things you have to see to believe.”

That’s why Rheon has testing facilities where customers can see the equipment in action, as well as four bakeries where customers can test entire production lines. In fact, Giacoio says that Rheon is so dedicated to the testing process and making sure their equipment meets the customer’s needs that they won’t even sell a machine that a customer hasn’t tested.

Adding the savory center

Interest in the sheeting equipment has been growing as consumers demand more artisan products. But Rheon’s roots are in co-extrusion equipment, and demand for this is growing as well.

Co-extrusion is used to produce food products with fillings, texture combinations, or multi-ingredient layers (calzones, dumplings, cake pops, etc.). Traditional co-extrusion equipment has a reputation for being rough on food items — Giacoio says that the general reaction of people in the industry is, “Oh my gosh, those things tear apart products!”

But, just like with the artisan bread equipment, Rheon’s extrusion machines are designed to be gentle. Where most extruders push product through the machine at a ratio upwards of 20 to 1 or 30 to 1, Rheon’s ratio is only 4 to 1. It’s a much gentler extruder that maintains the quality and integrity of the product.

The gentle equipment also has advanced technology that allows it to do in a single process what traditionally requires up to six separate processes — like making double-filled twists, combining up to four different materials, and handling whole products like hard-boiled eggs or mushroom caps — without risking damage.

Soaring demands for faster, smaller, innovative equipment

Gentler handling isn’t the only thing today’s bakery product manufacturers are looking for. They also want equipment that allows them to produce higher volumes, faster, as well as equipment that doesn’t take up the entire factory floor. Rheon’s machines can help a bakery producing a couple hundred pounds an hour to increase to several thousand pounds an hour.

And the equipment isn’t just for large corporations. Small and mid-sized plants with limited space are also approaching Rheon for solutions. “We've got machines as short as 8-feet long that can pump out ciabatta all day long,” Giacoio says. But even as throughput demands increase, Rheon stays focused on what’s most important. “We don’t want to jeopardize the integrity of the product by going too fast. Our goal is to give that handmade quality as fast as we can.”

Finally, many bakers also want to be at the forefront of innovative machinery, “to make something that no one else is making,” Giacoio says. For these customers, Rheon proactively researches and develops new products, combining the knowledge of bakers in its technical departments in Asia, Europe, and North America. The resulting solutions are then shared with customers through regular seminars.

This global innovation network has helped Rheon not only stay on top of, but even introduce new trends. Giacoio gives the example of round loaves of bread, like the kind many restaurants now use to make bread bowls for soup.

In 2016, Rheon released a rounder, a machine that molds dough into circular shapes to create perfectly rounded bread. But, the initial reaction wasn’t exactly what they’d hoped for. “We'd tell our customers all about the rounder, and they’d say, ‘That sounds great, but we don't sell a lot of round bread,’” Giacoio says. “These customers eventually asked their salesmen, ‘Why don't we sell a lot of round bread?’ To which the salesmen replied, ‘Well, that’s because we don't make any round bread.’” Today, everyone wants round bread, and Rheon’s rounder is in hot demand.

To learn more about Rheon’s innovative equipment and how they can help you create artisan-quality products at industrial speeds, stop by Booth #3659 at PROCESS EXPO.