Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Dough Nut

Could one man’s work lead to better bread?

Each morning in his lab, Trevor Shen Kuan Ng, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, mixes a fresh batch of bread dough. After kneading it by machine, he uses devices called rheometers to stretch, pull, and twist two grams of it at a time. The rheometers then measure the effects of the manipulation.

Trevor Shen Kuan Ng wants to better describe dough’s mechanical properties.

The mechanical properties of dough, such as its elasticity and viscosity, vary greatly depending on factors like the ratio of ingredients, the moisture in the air, and the room temperature. Although there’s already an ample body of scientific literature devoted to dough, Ng believes that in many studies, not enough care was taken to reduce the degree of variability. That’s why he is working to develop accurate, reproducible techniques for measuring the properties of dough. He’ll use the results to learn more about dough’s microstructure–information that may help commercial bakers produce better bread.

This story is part of the January/February 2007 Issue of the MIT News Magazine
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Of particular interest to Ng is the mechanical behavior and microstructure of gluten. Gluten, which gives dough its elastic quality, is a type of protein compound known as a biomacromolecule, and it forms a tangled matrix that is the backbone of dough. “Despite the complex behavior of dough, when you isolate the gluten, you find that it is very close to a particular type of model system called critical gels,” Ng says. (A critical gel is neither a solid nor a liquid, but something in between.) The quality, shape, and distribution of gluten is known to be linked to a bread’s qualities, Ng says, “but exactly what qualities link to which property of bread making is a lot less well defined.”

Though his family is in the food business–his father runs a company that produces Chinese sauces in his native Hong Kong–Ng didn’t plan to end up there. “I began my time at MIT in the gas turbine lab working on high-speed compressors, which seemed far more like a typical MIT ‘rocket science’ project,” he says. But when Ng’s advisor, mechanical-engineering professor Gareth McKinley, dreamed up the dough project, working on it proved to be a welcome change: “It was just the right combination of experimental work, analysis, practical application, and, most important, creative thinking,” explains Ng.

After spending long days in the lab working with dough that never gets eaten, Ng likes to bake for fun at home. Though he prefers kneading his dough by hand to using a bread maker, he sees the value of employing technology to improve baked goods. “Baking is an art form,” he says. “It will be difficult to replicate the techniques of a professional baker through machines. However, if we can at least understand the underlying physics of the process, it might lead us to cheaper or better breads.”

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.