Mixing It Up With Masa
by Lucy Sutton
Almost one in 133 Americans suffers from celiac disease, an inability for the body to digest and process gluten. The increasing awareness of the disease contributed to the $2.6 billion US market for gluten-free products in 2010. The gluten-free market is expected to exceed $5 billion by 2015, according to a recent report by Packaged Facts. Bakers and snack producers can take advantage of this trend by reformulating products without gluten-containing wheat, barley or rye, but those products must maintain the mouthfeel, texture and taste of the original versions.
One option for substitution is nixtamalized corn flour, or masa flour. Well known as the basic ingredient of corn tortillas and tortilla chips, masa is new to bakery applications, although it’s not new to consumers. “Corn is known and consumed worldwide, and its availability compared with other gluten-free grains such as rice, ancient grains and sorghum is significantly higher,” said Rodrigo Ariceaga, US operations director, Minsa Corp., Muleshoe, TX.
Minsa introduced Soulmaize Bakery, its masa formulating concept, at the 2010 International Baking Industry Exposition. It is intended for applications in pancakes, waffles, muffins, cakes, cookies, tamales, churros, pizza and other products. The company continues to feature it at pizza, baking and snack events.
Dating back before 1200 BC, the nixtamalization process has changed little. Today, corn is boiled in a 1 to 2% solution of food-grade calcium hydroxide for 5 minutes and then allowed to steep overnight. After it is washed to remove the bran and the kernel’s inedible pericarp, the cooked maize, or nixtamal, is dried and ground into masa. (The term “masa” comes from Spanish, where it means flour.)
At $5.20 per bu vs. wheat’s $5.70 per bu and rice’s $12.35 per cwt (roughly $5.60 per bu), corn offers a slight cost advantage in today’s volatile commodities market. Bakers can take advantage of this fact to avoid passing rising costs on to consumers and losing their confidence.
“[Soulmaize Bakery is] an innovative alternative with price and nutrition advantages in any market, not only in the gluten-free segment,” Mr. Ariceaga said.
Among the possible products for masa conversion, pancakes, churros and tamales are performing best in Minsa’s trials with potential customers. Many new products are past the R&D stage and have been tested at industrial scale with satisfactory results, according to Minsa. “The reason is that these products have tremendous potential due to market size, innovation, and require low investment, if any, to run our products in existing equipment,” Mr. Ariceaga explained.
It’s not just gluten-free products that stand to benefit. Other bakery categories can use these ingredients to create new products. “Soulmaize Bakery is the opportunity to enjoy a different experience in flavor and texture,” he added. These ingredients have also been used as thickeners and coatings for other food products.
The Soulmaize Bakery product is available in conventional or organic varieties to suit customers’ needs. It can also be derived from white, yellow or blue corn for variety.
“All our products are made with whole grains, enhancing dietary fiber content and making a healthier product,” Mr. Ariceaga said. “This is another way we respond to consumer demand for whole-grain labels and government and medical association recommendations to include fiber in our diet.” Corn qualifies as a whole grain, and it carries more dietary fiber than rice or tapioca, traditional ingredients used to formulate gluten-free baked foods.
Masa features an extra nutritional advantage. Mr. Ariceaga explained that during cooking, calcium hydroxide is used, which adds calcium content to the finished goods, a nutrient not available with plain corn meal or non-nixtamalized corn flour.
“Our R&D group has worked tirelessly for years in order to present the best alternative in the market,” Mr. Ariceaga continued. “We have conducted an exhaustive benchmarking and proved that our products excel in performance, quality and sensory evaluation.”
For more information and to contact Minsa, visit www.minsa.com