Protease Enzymes in Flour

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Protease enzymes, also known as ‘proteases’, naturally occur in flour and act as dough softeners/reducers. They do this by breaking down the gluten bonds and degrading the gluten-forming proteins through a process called proteolysis. Protease enzymes work from the moment the dough is kneaded until baking, breaking down the gluten bonds and making the dough softer and more extensible.

Protease enzymes play a crucial role in the fermentation process. These enzymes are responsible for making the dough more extensible, less resistant, and giving it a softer texture that is easier to work with. However, if the protease enzymes are allowed to work for too long, they can break down excessive amounts of gluten in the dough. This leads to a weak gluten structure, reduced elasticity, a wet and sticky dough that tears easily, and limited oven spring; In other words – an over-fermented dough.

There are dough conditioners and other ingredients that “mimic” the action of protease enzymes. These ingredients are added to the flour either during its production or by the baker when mixing the dough.

It is important to note that the action of protease enzymes in the flour is irreversible. Once the dough has reached a state of overfermentation (due to excessive gluten/protein degradation), it cannot be “repaired”, because the gluten-forming proteins have lost their ability to create new gluten bonds.