Ethnic bread producer Honeytop Speciality Foods produces over two million naan breads each day at its factory in Dunstable.
With such a heavy work-load you might expect machines to be shouldering the burden, but the company still uses skilled hand-stretchers to maintain the light, fluffy texture of its products. The hand-stretchers gently tease the soft dough pieces into the traditional teardrop shape.
Honeytop, which produces more than 100,000 artisanal breads an hour at its 120,000sq ft plant, says it is one of only a few UK producers to individually shape each naan bread by hand.
After hand-shaping, the naan bread is then baked in Honeytop’s flame-fired, tandoori-style clay ovens, to create irregular bubbling and a delicate tandoor flavour.
Harmeet Kaur, affectionately known in the firm as ’Sweety’, has been hand-stretching Honeytop naan bread for over three years, having learned the technique from her mother while baking at home in India. Sweety estimates that she shapes over 50,000 naan breads per week, and admits that it’s a very difficult skill to master.
She says: "Hand-stretching requires graceful dexterity, as well as focus and concentration. The dough pieces are incredibly light and soft, and have to be handled carefully to maintain a delicate and fluffy texture. Hand-stretching is a refined art and there are few people in the industry who have developed this expertise, but undoubtedly, it is what makes Honeytop naan bread stand out."
In recognition of her expertise, Sweety, aged 26 and from Armristar in India, has recently been promoted to work with Honeytop’s new product development team, bringing her experience and knowledge of the product and factory.
Dr Charles Eid, joint-MD of Honeytop, who set up the company in 1984 with his brother William, is dedicated to improving the standards of ethnic baking.
He explains: "In recent years we have seen a dramatic rise in the popularity and quality of ethnic foods, particularly Indian cuisine.
"At Honeytop, we believe that we help set those high quality standards and our flexible approach allows us to continue to do so, leading the way in the fast-growing market for ethnic foods." n