Making Noodles with the China Technical Exchange

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Noodles!

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Chow mein. Lo mein. Udon. Wanton. Ramen.

I love them all!

I know they say that the human body is close to 65% water. However, I’m pretty sure the remaining 35% of my body is noodle. After all, I’m a college student who lives on his own. Meal diversification is not really part of my repertoire. So, more often than not, instant noodles do the trick. Trust me, I’m no cook, but I can boil delicious noodles like no one’s business.

Before joining Cigi, I knew virtually nothing about noodles despite my dietary predilection. I didn’t even know there was a difference between noodles and pasta, let alone what the difference was (more about that in a future post). While some of the noodles I enjoy are made from egg or rice flour, wheat is a primary ingredient in many noodles, including instant noodles.

Last week, 12 representatives from China came to Cigi to participate in a technical exchange program, where we guided them through tours, demonstrations, and technology sessions, discussing the characteristics of Canadian wheat and how it meets Chinese quality requirements.

“I’m learning so much—about the CGC and the Canadian process, everything from the farm to the port,” says Yang Xiao Yu, a deputy manager of importing and exporting.

In 2013-14, China imported 633,900 tonnes of Canadian wheat, despite being the world’s largest wheat producer. Even though they produce 120 million tonnes of wheat, as a country of 1.4 billion people, China actually consumes more wheat than they produce. So, it’s up to exporters such as Canada to fill the void.

Yang says that China mostly imports CWRS from Canada and that it is used for baking. However, he found the technology session on noodles and other Asian products particularly informative.

And why not? 60% of the population in China eat wheat at least once a day, and whether they’re made of rice flour or wheat flour, noodles are a staple of the Chinese diet. And, yes, instant noodles are certainly a part of that diet but so are other more traditional noodles.

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Yang says that in the last couple of years the gluten strength of CWRS has been a lower than normal, but this year, it’s stronger, which is a good sign.

“In production, we want higher gluten strength to give more stability and tension for our noodles,” says Yang. A strong wheat will give the noodle that desired chewy ‘bounce.’

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This is Cigi’s noodle line, and believe me, no photo can do it justice. While, perhaps, it is not as long as a commercial noodle plant, the sheer size and length of ours is still formidable and hard to convey in a simple photograph.

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Participants watch Kasia Kaminska from Cigi’s Asian Products and Extrusion Technology area feed the noodles through the line.

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Da An, another technician in Asian Products and Extrusion Technology (centre), shows the participants how the noodles are formed, as they move along into the final production phase.

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Here they come!

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Of course, a taste test is necessary, making sure that our product is everything it can be!

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Okay, we got a little hungry after the “taste test.”

While our discussions on gluten, protein, starch, enzymes and pigments, texture and colour, all in relation to noodles and their processing properties were certainly interesting, that’s not all we did in this demonstration. We also had a look at traditional Chinese steamed buns made with Canadian wheat.

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Wang Changqing (executive director of a flour company in Shenzhen), Yang Xiao Yu (the previously mentioned importer and exporter from Beijing), and Qui Xiaowei (a baker from Foshan) discuss the structure of the sliced steamed bun.

It’s easy to get side-tracked when talking about noodles, but the participants learned so much more throughout the week:

  • Received an overview of the CGC, its roles and responsibilities along with the grading and inspection process
  • Visited the grain storage facility at the University of Manitoba
  • Partook in discussions and demonstrations with Cigi’s Analytical Services staff on wheat and flour quality testing methods and how it relates to end-product quality of Asian products
  • Discussed the quality of Canadian wheat for Asian noodles
  • Walked through and learned about Cigi’s mill and the specific process requirements to produce refined flours for Asian end products
  • Participated in a baking technology session where we made Chinese coconut bread
  • Toured Craig Riddell’s farm in Warren, Manitoba

At the end of the week, the participants left for Vancouver to have a look at a terminal elevator and meet with staff at the CGC office. While in Canada, they got to see the whole process—everything from how the crops are seeded all the way to how they’re transported and shipped across the world to buyers.

Our Chinese participants learned a lot during their stay at Cigi. After a day of learning with them in the noodle lab, constantly being tantalized with delicious chewy noodles, you better believe the first thing I do when I get home is cook me up some instant noodles.

Mike Kontzamanis is a Creative Communications student at Red River College in Winnipeg, working at Cigi for the summer.  Watch for more articles from Mike about Cigi’s programs over the next several weeks.