One of the best kept secrets in pizza dough science is whey, a powdered byproduct of cheese. According to Tom Lehmann, also known as “The Dough Doctor” from the American Institute of Baking, whey is rich in milk sugar, but not sweet, and it can facilitate a brownish crust color in lieu of cane sugar.
Not only is this substitute healthier, it’s also cheaper, averaging about 40 cents a pound. Whey is just one of many topics covered at Lehmann’s “Dough Trends and Issues Faced by Pizzeria Operators” seminar at the North American Pizza & Ice Cream Show (NAPICS) Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.
Healthy eating was a big theme of the seminar, as states begin to adopt nutritional labeling and government regulations crack down on calorie dense foods, something most pizzerias have been guilty of offering.
The best way to curb this unhealthy classification is to subscribe to a quality over quantity mentality when it comes to ingredients and pizza coverage, and to perhaps rethink tradition. For example, many operators just use sugar because it’s part of a hand-me-down recipe.
“You don’t need it. It’s just an added ingredient that contributes calories,” Lehmann said.
To find its alternative, ask local bakeries where they get their supplies, as sweet dairy whey should be among them. Whey, Lehmann said, is a really neat trick and will not feed yeast like active sugar.
But sugar isn’t the main culprit when it comes to pizza calories. That designation belongs to cheese.
“If you want to do something that is more nutritional, cut down on your cheese. Most operators use 6, 7, 8 ounces of cheese, which is where most of the calories come from. But you can use a more flavorful cheese, such as whole milk mozzarella, and only use 4 ounces, and it will end up costing the same if not cheaper than skim or low fat mozzarella because you use more of those,” he said.
What may also help in saving money is to cut out the pungent, dried herbs. Use fresh herbs instead, and you’ll not have to use as much.
“We’re not going for full coverage here, just one or two leaves, cut diagonally – which gets the maximum flavor out – and sprinkled over top. You don’t need a lot; the flavor will infuse itself in the pizza while it’s baking,” Lehmann said.
Going for healthier alternatives, he said, is friendlier to kids and adults alike, and it helps prevent the pizza industry from getting a “bigger black eye."
Gluten-free and safe ingredients
A segment of the pizza industry that has grown quickly within the past several years is gluten-free crusts. While an estimated 3-5 percent of the population is affected by gluten intolerance to some degree, the business concept increased 10 percent last year.
Looking into this option is not a bad idea, Lehmann said, as it could provide restaurants with an opportunity to stand out from others, and provide larger groups with an acceptable place to go should they have a celiac or gluten intolerant member among them. However, adopting this menu component isn't easy.
“Cross contamination with gluten-free is not a possibility but a probability. I do not recommend making your own gluten-free crust. You need dedicated equipment and time. Instead, look around, find gluten-free products that fit your operation and then commit a dedicated prep area, which can be relatively small,” Lehmann said.
Also, do whatever other due diligence you can to avoid cross contamination, including a disclaimer sign about the gluten-free items.
“We are in a very litigation happy society. It’s why McDonald’s now has to put a caution label on its coffee warning that it’s hot. Before you take the gluten leap, call your insurance company and see what exactly needs to be done, or if you have to carry a separate policy,” Lehmann said.
Celiac disease is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to food safety.
“People just don’t feel safe about their food anymore, and you can't blame them considering all of the recalls that have happened all over the country just within the past few years alone,” Lehmann said.
Operators can earn a better safety reputation simply by going local.
“If you’re in a location that has a farmers’ market, ask a participant if they can grow tomatoes for you. They don’t have to be Roma tomatoes. Ask them if they can grow basil, too. Get a contract with them to do so,” Lehmann said.
Not only will this provide you with the knowledge of where your supply comes from, it also will intrigue many consumers who respond well to “locally grown” buzz words.
Lehmann said the type of oven you use mostly comes down to showmanship versus speed. If you cater to a sit-down, older demographic, a wood or coal-fired oven works well, as customers can watch the entire process and get an entertaining effect.
He cautions, however, that these types of ovens are deeper than more modern equipment and require a longer peel.
“Also, check your codes. Some buildings don’t allow them,” Lehmann said. “One restaurant I know of got around the codes by installing the oven on the outside of the building and cutting a hole through the wall so the access was on the inside, but the actual oven is on the outside. This may also save you some money on insurance.”
If you cater to the college crowd that simply wants something fast and cheap, however, air impingement ovens should do the trick.
Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.