Canadian durum delivers quality to North African mills and processors: Cigi mission

By Ellen Goodman

Last March Cigi conducted its first durum investigative mission to North Africa, gathering market information on behalf of the Canadian value chain to ensure Canada Western Amber Durum quality continues to meet customer requirements.

Technical visits by Cigi staff to mills and couscous and pasta processing companies in Algeria and Morocco revealed that customers were satisfied with the quality of CWAD of which 100% is usually used in premium products, says Esey Assefaw, Head of Cigi Asian Products and Pasta Technology.

Traditional Moroccan couscous dish with meat and vegetables.

Traditional Moroccan couscous dish with meat and vegetables.

In Algeria, CWAD is occasionally blended with domestic durum for a lower-quality pasta product destined for the domestic market or for export to price-conscious Sub-Saharan African markets, he says. CWAD is only rarely blended in Morocco with durum from another origin such as France when availability of higher grade CWAD is limited. More couscous is produced in Morocco than in Algeria which processes more pasta.

“This was Cigi’s first mission to North Africa aside from the new crop missions where we present annual crop quality data to customers in multiple countries over a few weeks,” Esey says.  “So we haven’t had the opportunity before to visit mills and processing companies in these countries to investigate the market more closely. We found that the most important requirement in their products was the excellent yellow colour that CWAD gives and which currently faces no competition in the market.”

Elaine Sopiwnyk, Cigi Director of Grain Quality, agrees that the visits to three companies and Office Algérien Interprofessionnel des Céréales testing laboratory in Algeria and to six companies in Morocco gave Cigi a closer look at what customers require for their products. “We don’t have a lot of experience with couscous and have tried to find out more from customers on programs at Cigi but unless you visit their facilities and talk to people there, you don’t get the same sense of what they require.  It may sound simplistic to say it’s all about colour, but we found out it is all about colour.”

She adds the only concern raised was about DON levels and the impact on imported durum which emphasizes a need to look at developing fusarium resistance in CWAD. DON or deoxynivalenol is a mycotoxin also known as vomitoxin that may be present in fusarium head blight infecting wheat or barley.

Customers indicated protein is also important but not as critical as colour, Elaine says. Hard vitreous kernels or HVK are related to protein content and milling quality and a certain percentage is required to achieve a higher grade of CWAD (vitreousness, or translucence, indicates kernel hardness). Kernels affected by cool, wet growing conditions may become non-vitreous in which they are bleached or starchy, reducing the quality of semolina milled from the durum.

“We were told at one company that women, who are primarily responsible for grocery shopping, have Minoltas (colour measuring instrument) in their eyes so they can go to the supermarket and determine couscous quality based on colour,” she says. “It’s common that their couscous or pasta is purchased from stores selling bulk products, and pasta is sold as short goods like rotini rather than spaghetti which would break if sold that way. Middle- or upper-class consumers might go to a grocery store where premium products would be sold as packaged goods with brand names.”

Esey concurs that there is segmentation in the market with low-, medium- and high-quality products.

Companies that Cigi visited manufactured both couscous and pasta, he says, adding that pasta is usually viewed more as a value-added side product in bigger processing operations.

“To make couscous they basically use the same raw material but the differentiation in quality is really in the processing,” Esey says.  “There are so many graduated quality parameters, like coarse couscous versus fine couscous, although medium is most common. All the mills we visited had the ability to mill CWAD into various semolina granulations to meet processors’ requirements.”

An important evaluation of couscous quality is its ability to absorb liquid especially when in sauce like in a traditional couscous dish, Elaine says.  “A couscous swelling index is an important test done in both countries where dried couscous is added to water to hydrate after which the volume is measured. Good quality couscous should be able to absorb more liquid even after it is cooked.”

She notes that the visit confirmed that the focus for CWAD in this region continues to be on established couscous and pasta end-products. However, some industry rationalization and plant expansion has begun in Morocco which could lead to further changes and new product development in future.