It cannot be denied that nutrition has become a driving force in snacking trends among consumers. However, taste remains the No. 1 reason why people will make a snack purchase. Yes, they want something that will satiate and not be detrimental to their waistlines, but consumers won’t hand over their cash for something that isn’t also going to be enjoyable to eat. To deliver desirable flavor, snack producers rely on a combination of taste and texture, and an easy way to innovate in the snack market is with different flavors and textures that can be intriguing to the tongue.
While flavors may be the most obvious contributor to the overall tastiness of a snack, texture is just as important in contributing to its overall mouthfeel as a person partakes. Crunchy, crispy, puffy, snappy, flaky — these qualities and more contribute to the entire snacking experience in a way that can be more difficult to measure than simply flavor. The wide array of textures delivered by snacks today is largely achieved by processing methods: frying, extrusion, popping and baking. Baking in particular provides a healthier halo to snacks than the more traditional frying method for products such as potato chips. Laminating baked snacks before the oven can also improve the texture in these snacks, delivering the interesting layers and bite characteristics that consumers crave.
Lamination enables the dough sheets to separate and create a layered effect in the finished product. “This separation yields the light texture by creating voids between the dough layers instead of consumers biting down on a more solid mass of baked dough,” said Ken Zvoncheck, director of Reading Bakery Systems’ Science & Innovation Center.
The laminator folds fat between layers of dough that will then melt in the oven, creating a lift between layers. This delivers the layered look and bite most often characterizing sweet goods such as Danish and croissants, but laminating can also be useful in creating interesting and innovative textures in baked snacks.
This multi-layered texture is desired for not only its mouthfeel but also its appearance. “Laminated products tend to have lower bulk density, giving the consumer a better perception of value, bite profile and potentially more nutritional benefits per piece size compared with the more dense non-laminated products,” said James Outram, senior applications technologist, Haas-Meincke. “This differentiating texture is not possible by other manufacturing techniques.”
Lift between layers can be achieved through chemical leavening and sheeting, but Jeff McLean, sales manager, North America, Spooner Vicars Bakery Systems, said many snack producers still rely on lamination to get the job done and have a better quality product. “Most people like lamination because you get an enhanced snap and crack,” he said.
Snack doughs can vary so widely that laminators have to be able to stretch and fold doughs of differing tensions without tearing or sticking. This is especially true in today’s innovative climate where snack producers are trying all sorts of ingredients to deliver on nutrition trends and gluten-free demand. Technology and techniques can help these doughs make it through the laminator and finish with a layered snack with interesting texture.
Consumers are more adventurous than ever, and this need to experiment has the biggest impact on the snack category. Snacks are a low-risk category for trying new things, so to get shoppers’ attention, snack manufacturers are playing with different ingredients and flavors, some of which may require adjustments in processing.
The very process of laminating can inspire new snack ideas. Mr. Outram has seen products featuring two different colors, with one for the dough making up the outside layers and a contrasting color in the middle. “This technique uses dividing plates to keep the dough colors or flavors separate,” he said. “This overcomes the need for three separate sheeters.”
Fritsch has also seen multiple flavors featured in laminated snacks, particularly items made with Danish or yeast doughs having multiple fillings. The Fritsch Technology Center offers snack makers the opportunity to work with the company’s experts to experiment with the laminating process to develop new ways of creating innovative snacks.
Perhaps the most clear next step in snack innovation is with clean-label or natural ingredients. Mr. McLean has seen producers using beets in a cracker and seaweed as an ingredient to be mixed into the dough.
“Our customers are coming up with all types of new inclusions within the layers such as pepper flakes, cheese, sesame seeds, jalapeños and many other dry ingredients,” said Rick Parrish, director, sales and marketing, Franz Haas Machinery of America. “This gives many new textures, flavors, nutritional values to the final product.”
Clean-label ingredients, however, can come with their own challenges in achieving desirable texture. Lamination can assist with that. Alternative ingredients steering away from a gluten base can be difficult for laminators and require some tweaking on the equipment to prevent the dough from tearing or sticking. Flexible equipment that can handle a wide variety of doughs as well as techniques for sticky doughs can all help snack producers adjust to their innovations.
Proper lamination fit
Not all doughs laminate equally, so it’s important that equipment be flexible enough to handle those that respond differently to sheeting and laminating.
In the past, gauge stations included one motor and a chain linking the top and bottom rolls together, Mr. Zvoncheck explained. The bottom roll would turn 5% faster than the top roll to prevent doughs from sticking to the top roll and wrinkling. “This worked well for many doughs. Snack manufacturers would adjust the dough hydration and temperature to optimize the dough at this 5% speed differential,” he said.
However, as doughs and their ingredients become more diverse, so do lamination needs. Independent roll speeds on laminators today allow the machinery to adjust to the dough instead of adapting the dough to meet the laminator’s needs. “Many doughs run well at the 5% differential, but others may need more differential to hold the sheet onto the bottom roll,” Mr. Zvoncheck explained. “This flexibility is paramount in giving the operators the range of differential to now accommodate most doughs.”
Reading also features a speed differential between the cutting belt and cutting roll of its laminators. This helps the dough release from the cutter with minimal deformation.
Softer doughs in particular are prone to waves, wrinkles and other imperfections as they are laminated. “Pita chips are a good example,” said Patrick Nagel, manager of the sales, service and technical department of Fritsch USA. ‘They are made out of yeast dough, often pre-fermented and, therefore, softer. The dough is laminated, sheeted out to a final thickness, cut in strips and crosswise, then baked, separated and baked again.”
The dough’s delicacy makes it fragile during machining; therefore, Fritsch offers different laminating systems that are designed to reduce stress in the dough. Thus, the laminator is prevented from creating waves in the layers of the dough.
Gluten-free doughs, in particular, can be quite sticky and tricky to handle on traditional forming machinery. Operators would need to make adjustments not only in independent top and bottom gauge roll speeds but also control roller temperatures and employ additional scrapers.
Different doughs come with more or less elasticity and relaxation across and along the line, which requires more flexible control of these tensions during the machining to avoid over stretching and tearing. With its latest cut sheet laminators and forming machines, Spooner Vicars aims to make these adjustments easier to make.
For its newest generation of laminators, Haas-Meincke developed a wide range of options from three-roll sheeters to six-roll sheeters to handle today’s proliferating range of dough textures and thickness. With such capabilities, Haas equipment can achieve a homogenous dough sheet for proper lamination. The company also designed its laminators with modularity in mind, making them easy to tailor to a snack manufacturer’s needs.
Lamination opens up snack makers to a new world of attractive textures and ingredients. “Many new products can be developed using the multiple layers of sheeted dough,” Mr. Outram said. “It’s all about creating more appealing products with interesting and desirable textures.”
And improved technology enables snack producers to experiment with different types of dough that may go beyond the realm of conventional snacks. All producers need is some flexible equipment and a little imagination.