The falling number test measures enzyme activity in flour.

The falling number test measures enzyme activity in flour.

Falling Number Test

What is the falling number (FN) test?

The Hagberg Falling Number test, originally developed in Sweden, is used to measure the enzyme activity in flour. The FN of a flour is related to the amount and activity of cereal enzyme α-amylase, which is present in the wheat after harvesting. Wheat kernels with high moisture levels usually exhibit high levels of α-amylase.

The FN is used in the baking industry for assessing:

  • Sprout damage in wheat kernels
  • Enzymatic activity in wheat flour
  • Crop-year changeovers and selection of wheat flour suppliers
  • Its effect on water absorption (water binding capacity)
  • Machinability and dough-handling issues of dough during processing
  • Upgrades/establishment of specifications for flours at receipt (e.g., starch damage, enzymatic activity)

How does it work?

The FN test details the effect of the α-amylase on the starch granules in the flour undergoing gelatinization, and progressively broken down (cleaved) by the amylase action.1 The temperature set for the test provides maximum enzymatic activity in the flour/water mixture or suspension.

The FN is the time in seconds required for a device to fall a measured distance through a hot flour/water mixture while heat is applied. If the enzymatic activity is high, the starch is broken down (liquefied) rapidly during gelatinization. So then, the device falls through the relatively liquid paste in a short time. A less viscous fluid opposing less resistance to the flow means the FN is low. On the other hand, if the activity of the enzyme is low, it takes longer for the device to cover the distance of its fall. This means the falling number is high.2


Falling numbers over 250 seconds are most suitable for the bread-baking process. In contrast, FNs above 350 seconds may indicate that the flour should be supplemented with a form of amylolytic enzyme or with malted grain flours.

Most large-scale bakeries work with an ideal FN range of 250–280 seconds. Different values of fall numbers may be specific to unique products and processing conditions inside the...

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