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I found many research papers on differences between Teflon and bronze die for pasta extrusion but there are no comparisons between bronze vs steel/brass/any other metal dies. Why we still stick to bronze dies instead of using steel as cheaper alternative? Are there any differences of pasta structure after extrusion (steel vs bronze)?

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  • I just saw this youtube's video about why they use bronze in pasta extrusion: youtube.com/watch?v=W8wZbNmdIKw Feb 12, 2022 at 21:52
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    They explain differences between bronze and Teflon but they do not tell anything why bronze is so special in comparison to other metals like steel, brass etc.
    – infor7
    Feb 12, 2022 at 23:37
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    Pawel: interesting question. I personally can't find any references to pasta dies made from steel without a teflon coating. My guess would be that it fails in some way, but I can't find any documentation on that.
    – FuzzyChef
    Feb 14, 2022 at 2:29
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    I think when they talk about ‘teflon’ dies, it’s Teflon coated metal, and not plastic. (Plastic dies wear out too quickly; that’s usually discussed in conjunction with home extruders who are often sold as plastic dies with a bronze upgrade available)
    – Joe
    Feb 14, 2022 at 16:47
  • www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211601X1100085X This academic paper backs up the benefit of bronze over teflon but doesn't compare other materials. Can't read the full article but says "Extruding wheat semolina dough through a Teflon die allows to process pasta with a smooth and even surface, whereas bronze die can be used to obtain a product with a rough texture"
    – rfii
    Jul 6, 2023 at 2:38

3 Answers 3

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I too have been trying to find a satisfactory answer to this question, as it seemed like bronze was wheeled out for primarily marketing reasons and served more of a default when not using PTFE, rather than being honestly motivated by material properties. This, combined with some food pseudoscience, can be pretty frustrating.

My reading of the situation has been that Teflon/PTFE is effectively superior in every way for dried pasta producers. It presents minimal extrusion friction and heat, is easy to machine and replace, creates pasta that looks good on shelves, and even improves shelf life of dried pasta due by reducing likelihood of grain weevil infestation, leaving the no-PTFE producers in a high-cost niche that feeds on marketing.

However, in more recent reading, it seems like bronze may be more of an intentional choice. I do not have a hard answer to your question, but the literature seems to circle around a few key aspects, particularly heat dissipation. I hope that, even if this doesn't answer the question, I can give you a few sources and bibs to continue the search.

Some Reading

Extruding and Drying of Pasta, Manthey/Twombly; technical overview of extruded pasta

Pasta. History, technologies and secrets of Italian tradition, Barilla; lighter read, but gives a lot of context

The Study of the Behaviour..., Trasca; not enlightening but a good bibliography and gives some context around motivations for PTFE that can be used to backsolve a little

Example Barilla die insert from Barilla Archives

Takeaways from Reading

Twombly, Pg 8 Sec 6

"Die support is made from bronze or stainless steel. The support must be capable of withstanding a tremendous amount of pressure over time without yielding. Stainless steel can tolerate higher pressures, but tends to retain more heat than bronze"

"Inserts are generally made from bronze, due to their low heat retention."

This is what I see again and again. Bronze is chosen for its thermal properties, and it's specifically chosen over SUS even when other parts of the die assembly are made from SUS. You've noted above that the thermal conductivity of the two metals are not incredibly different, but bronze's k will depend a lot on the copper content, and it's not rare to find >70W/m-K bronze. SUS, in contrast, tends to have quite low (<25W/m-K) thermal conductivity. For high-volume pasta production, this would result in a large difference in pasta extruded over time, as SUS die inserts would need to be run slower. I have not been able to find the specific alloys used in the insert manufacturing, but would assume from the surrounding data that the bronze is a high-copper alloy.

Twombly, Pg 7 Sec 4

"Excess heat generated by friction during extrusion is removed by use of a water jacket which surrounds the extrusion barrel. A high volume of warm water is used to maintain both the barrel and dough temperature near 45°C."

Worth noting. Keep in mind that a water jacket cannot be used (without complex cooling channels) for the aperture end of the extruder due to the fact we're extruding dough. So, you want to move heat energy away from the insert contact surface as quickly as possible so that it can be carried away by the water cooling.

Barilla Archives, Picture 2

Depiction showing that the largest pasta producer's PTFE dies are made from bronze and PTFE, not steel and PTFE. This suggests that there are still properties of the bronze that are still desirable, even when the dough does not contact the metal, the company cannot advertise using a bronze die insert, and when the producer has more than enough capital to afford machined stainless steel. This backs up the thermal properties theory.

It may also just be the case that the economics of SUS don't work out here. The lifetime of the insert will be higher, but the machine will need to extrude slower, in order to account for thermal conductivity, and the production costs for each insert will be higher.

Barilla, Pg 111-112

Apparently, Barilla's pasta die supports have been cut from what Barilla calls "Bral," their name for an aluminum-bronze alloy. I have not seen this mentioned in other publications, but makes sense if they are trying to balance thermal conductivity and pressure tolerance.

My understanding is that aluminum-bronzes should beat out bronze in practically every aspect that matters here, so that reason may be significant to the reason that bronze is chosen. I have no experience buying nor machining that alloy, but it seems like it may be more expensive and harder to machine than bronze.

Barilla, Pg 65 (Bonus History)

"Dies were made with materials such as copper, red bronze, manganese bronze, etc., which were resistant to the acids formed during the fermentation process."

I'm going to guess that the origin of bronze as the material of choice all comes from the high workability of the metal combined with its chemical properties. At the time (~17th century), this was probably the best that metallurgy could do (more research needed). It's interesting to consider that the thermal characteristics would have basically been mostly irrelevant until the dies were worked much harder.

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  • When you say that teflon is "superior in every way" and that bronze is for "primarily marketing reasons," are you saying the claims that bronze cut pasta produces pasta with a rougher surface are false? This scientific article says the claim is true, but does not explain why bronze rather than another metal would produce that texture. sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211601X1100085X Extruding wheat semolina dough through a Teflon die allows to process pasta with a smooth and even surface, whereas bronze die can be used to obtain a product with a rough texture.
    – rfii
    Jul 6, 2023 at 2:38
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Some factors that could be the reason:

  • Bronze is harder than plastic, thus more durable
  • softer than steel, thus easier to machine and wears the tools less. Perhaps that could make it cheaper to produce.
  • it has low friction against other metals; perhaps that property helps the pasta dough glide more easily out of the die
  • bronze alloys can also be resistant to corrosion, so there's no need to coat it with teflon (again making the die production process more expensive). Of course, stainless steel doesn't need to be coated.

Edit:

I asked a pasta die manufacturer and they stated two main factors: Texture and Temperature.

Bronze provides the pasta with a rough texture that helps the pasta retain the sauce

and

Bronze also stays within a temperature range that is good for extrusion as you want some heat, not hot, but not cold either. The pasta flows better.

That makes sense: as pressure from pushing the pasta through the small holes of the die builds up, temperature will rise. A material that heats up too much could change the structure of the dough, and bronze must heat just enough to justify its use over steel.

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  • 2) it has low friction against other metals; perhaps that property helps the pasta dough glide more easily out of the die You can change the roughness of the material by polishing / scratching and making irregular surface. So in theory we can adjust that property in both bronze and stainless steel. 3) bronze alloys can also be resistant to corrosion, so there's no need to coat it with teflon (again making the die production process more expensive) Stainless steel have quite high corrosion resistance so we do not need to coat it with Teflon.
    – infor7
    Feb 15, 2022 at 19:46
  • 1) it's usually cheaper than stainless steel I have checked prices of stainless steel and bronze. Steel X5CrNi18-10 (1.4301) is over two times cheaper than bronze.
    – infor7
    Feb 15, 2022 at 19:48
  • corrosion: you're right, I was thinking about coating carbon steel, since the question doesn't mention stainless (but that would be the obvious choice). About pricing I wasn't aware steel was that much cheaper. But that's just the raw material, there are other costs involved that could increase the price somewhere: transport, machining, etc
    – Luciano
    Feb 16, 2022 at 9:43
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    @infor7 do the numbers make a difference if pasta manufacturers believe that bronze has the right thermal conductivity? You asked why we use them, and even unfounded beliefs can be a real reason for "why".
    – FuzzyChef
    Feb 16, 2022 at 23:41
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    I only want to get information if there are any scientific reason to use bronze dies over any other metal. Are there any rational argument to use it other than marketing and tradition. When I search through a scientific papers and books I do not find any comparison of stainless steel and bronze dies, so maybe we have gap in knowledge. Maybe stainless steel die is not worse in any case than any bronze die. If you know any book or scientific paper which have such comparison please let me know. I really appreciate it.
    – infor7
    Feb 17, 2022 at 13:55
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Have you ever tasted bronze-extruded pasta? Cheaper (mostly teflon) extrusion are common on lower quality but those have also a totally differet taste.

Sauce-stickability alone is enough to justify stickin with bronze.

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    I've tried I totally appreciate structure of pasta extruded through bronze die in comparison to Teflon. I am curious why we use bronze and do not extrude through aluminum, steel, brass etc. (without Teflon coating)
    – infor7
    Feb 14, 2022 at 16:50
  • 1> Because of tradition. 2> What's the saving per kilogram in using other materials? probably close to none, hence no reason to change. Say you respect tradition and surcharge 10% and, if your product is just "ok" you make 10% more because of tradition. Say you using inox.... no-one would care (thus no surcharge) and most would go to bronze.
    – DDS
    Feb 14, 2022 at 16:53
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