Moisture in the Production of Corn Chips and Snack Foods

Corn chips are surely a wondrous snack food and January 29th is National Corn Chip Day. To celebrate, the company decided to find out more about this tasty treat and the role that moisture plays in the production of corn chips and snack foods in general.

To get the scoop on corn chips, they spoke to Randy Rupprecht, QA Manager, and Mike Klein, Processing Manager, of Axium Foods.

The perfect snack food cannot be achieved without optimal conditions during production, be it pretzel, crisp or chip. The ideal moisture level varies from one to another, so producers of these types of foodstuffs must be careful to monitor the moisture content in each type. This not only ensures consistent flavor and quality, but decreases the amount of product that has to be discarded, reducing waste and optimizing production.

Back to Corn Chip Basics

A corn chip, or tortilla chip, begins life as corn that is cooked in lime/water mixture. The lime is added, Mike explains, to improve water absorption and to break down the outer pericarp of the corn so that the final chip is crispier. The lime also acts to inhibit the growth of microbes, which extends the shelf life.

Once cooked, the corn is left to soak for several hours to break apart the remaining outer hull of the corn.

Allows the moisture to reach the entire kernel and equilibrate the moisture level at 51-52% to produce the best corn chips.

Mike Klein, Processing Manager of Axium Foods.

Later on in the process, this water is displaced by oil during frying, decreasing the moisture levels and making sure there is a real crunch in the finished chip.

After absorbing enough water and the soak has done its job, the corn is removed and then showered to wash away the excess lime and pericarp. It’s then ready to be ground down into masa dough at the mill, where the initial moisture check is performed.

At this stage Randy is looks for around 50% moisture in the dough, although adjustments can be made to raise or lower the level if it is a not quite there. Once the masa has passed the ‘work in process’ test with an acceptable moisture content, it is extruded through a die which give the shape of the chip. The chips can be made into different shapes, depending on the die used. This long strip of dough is then finely sliced to form the final chip shape.

It is this point where corn chips and tortilla chips diverge. The crucial difference is that tortilla chips are dried out in an oven first, whereas corn chips are fried straight away. Randy goes more into more detail about the process:

Tortilla chips are baked prior to frying in order to decrease the moisture content in the chip so that, when it is fried; there will be less water available to be replaced by oil, giving the tortilla chip a softer crunch compared to a corn chip. The more moisture available prior to frying, the longer the chips can be in the fryer and the crunchier the final product will be.

We aim for between 0.6% and 1.1% moisture for our corn chips and between 0.8% and 1.6% for our tortilla chips.

Randy Rupprecht, QA Manager of Axium Foods.

Each batch is tested hourly using a Computrac® MAX 4000XL to make sure the moisture content is at the desired value, making sure they are meeting Axium Foods’ high quality standards. At Axium they also use the Computrac to calibrate various sensors along the line that provide real-time data to the operator and augment the testing done in the lab.

Finally, once the frying is done, the corn chips are seasoned, salted, packaged and sent out to retailers ready to eat. After all, what is National Corn Chip Day without the tasty, crunchy treat that gives this holiday its name.

Arizona Instrument

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Arizona Instrument.

For more information on this source, please visit Arizona Instrument.

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