Adding water for food processor to kneading dough for bread.

The water added and absorbed during mixing helps dough form.

The percentage of water absorption — or the amount of water taken in by flour — to give your dough optimal consistency is influenced differently by different ingredients. Although the percentage itself may be easy to understand (60% water absorption means 60 lbs of water are needed for 100 lbs of flour), there are many factors at play.

What ingredients absorb water?

It helps to know how your ingredients and formulas will affect absorption levels. A cookie formula will have a 50-54% absorption level, while an artisan ciabatta formula can have absorption levels up to 90%. Here are how some ingredients affect water absorption:

  • Pentosans: Absorb the most water within the flour.
  • Damaged Starch: Absorbs the second-most water due to fissures and cracks on the outer layer of the starch granule.
  • Protein: Absorbs the third-most water; primarily insoluble in water.
  • Intact or Native Starch: Does not maintain significant water retention capabilities.
  • Vital Wheat Gluten: When added to the formula, it increases the water absorption and imparts greater stability to the dough.

There are several ways to measure water absorption: via farinograph, mixograph or biaxial extensional viscosity. How do they work? Find out on BAKERpedia’s water absorption page!

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