Technology is like the forces of Mother Nature –– you may or may not like it, but once it begins heading in your direction there isn’t much you can do about it. You can either embrace it or step aside and let it pass you by. Usually, embracing it is the way to go. By doing that, you learn to harness it put it to work for you.
During my 38-year love affair with pizza, I’ve seen a lot of new technologies come along, and I’ve even had a hand in the development of a few of them. More recently, though, we’ve seen new technology manifest itself in ovens. Air impingement ovens are an example, as are those ovens that utilize more than a single baking technology to bake our pizzas faster than ever before. These are appropriately called multiple technology ovens. They combine a mix of two or more of the following baking technologies: air impingement; convection; radiant; microwave and magnetic resonance baking technologies. The technology is there, and it has been proven to work. Now all that is needed is the ability to further harness it into an oven format that can put out upwards of 100 pizzas per hour in a space not much bigger than the average office desk.
We’ve also seen the transition from plain steel and spun aluminum pans to steel and aluminum pans and disks with a super durable, anodized finish and proprietary, non-stick coatings that make seasoning your pans and handling them with kid gloves a thing of the past.
Through CNC machining technology, we have seen a dramatic improvement in the quality of our equipment and tools. CNC machining has allowed manufacturers to produce things on a custom basis that would have been far too cost prohibitive just 10 years ago. At a cost today of just slightly more than a standard production item, we can have baking pans/disks, tools and racks that work best in our specific shops, under our specific conditions for the task at hand. We’re beginning to get away from the philosophy of “one size fits all.” I was recently working with a pizza chain where we found that we had to modify the number and pattern of holes in their baking disks to achieve the bake they wanted. We drilled holes in a few of the existing disks, and after determining what we wanted a single telephone call and a few days of waiting resulted in commercially made sample disks for us to try.
Gone, too, are the days of the 72-inch high racks that would only hold 30 or so pizzas due to the excessively wide spacing between the shelves to accommodate bread and pastry items rather than pizza. Today, the same racks can be bought or manufactured with much tighter shelf spacing, thus allowing for the storage of many more pizzas in the same space. Thanks to CNC machining, the manufacturer doesn’t need to inventory all of those racks either. Upon an order, the product specifications are fed to the automated machinery and the product is made to order — faster, more accurately, and of overall better quality than it could ever be made by hand. And because the racks do not need to be inventoried for months, it can be sold at a lower, more competitive cost.
Technology and Ingredients
Technology has also affected the ingredients we use. We have ingredients that can be used to dry the top of a wet pizza, or put under the dough to help impart a crispy texture to the finished crust. Then there are new ingredients to help reduce the snap-back or memory characteristics of the dough. These new reducing agents are what might be called a high-tech blend of ingredients designed to achieve softer, more extensible dough without becoming excessively weak or sticky.
We also have a whole array of different types of yeast to choose from now. There are specific dry, instant yeast types that are designed just for use in frozen dough, and there is even a new type of instant yeast just coming to the market as this article goes to print that is designed to replace protected active dry yeast (PADY) in mixes. This new yeast should certainly be of interest to anyone making dry mixes or preparing “goodie bags” of ingredients.
Within the past couple of years, technology has shown us that the consistency of our pizza doughs really isn’t affected all that much by the weather, especially on rainy days. So just why did we see differences in our doughs? Research technology showed us that it was really due to the way we were adding the oil to our doughs. By adding the oil to the dough after it had a chance to mix with the water (hydrate) for a few minutes, it was found that a marked improvement in dough consistency could be achieved. At last, gone are the days of adding a little more flour or a little more water, and then oops, make that a little more flour again.
Lets not forget about another new development in our industry –– take-and-bake pizza. Early in the development of take-and-bake pizzas we advocated the use of chemical leavening agents (sodium aluminum phosphate and baking soda) as a type of “baking powder” to provide a back-up leavening system to the yeast that is normally added. Early reports indicated a problem with this leavening system in the form of the development of a progressively darkening crumb color as the dough aged over a few days, and the development of an acidic taste. It was found that these problems could be prevented through fat encapsulation of the leavening system. Hence, fat encapsulation technology became a part of pizza production through these new take and bake pizzas. This very same technology has now spilled over into the making of frozen pizzas where fat encapsulation technology is allowing us to make better tasting, longer lasting, and better performing frozen pizzas at the retail level than ever before.
As you can see, new technologies have made a significant impact upon our stores and the way we make pizza, or with the pizzas that we now serve to our customers. Having spent most of my professional career working in research, I think it would be safe for me to say that where problems or challenges exist, a technology will eventually be developed to address the issue. Like all good things, though, sometimes it just takes a little time to develop the necessary technologies.