Compared with a decade ago, better-for-you snacks manufacturers now rely on a host of thermal processes to rewrite the established methods for baking and frying.

“Many of these innovative snacks are thin and may be more challenging to evenly remove moisture from during baking,” said Ken Zvoncheck, director of process technology, Reading Bakery Systems. “Our convection technology can be fine-tuned to optimize baking to eliminate issues such as ‘checking,’ where the baked snack develops a hairline crack after setting for a few hours after baking and results in product breakage.”

Convection technology virtually eliminates this issue by removing moisture uniformly while baking.

“It would be nearly impossible to bake some of these new products in traditional, direct gas-fired ovens,” he added.

In the past, companies touted the healthy attributes of their baked snacks, which, unfortunately, tasted like cardboard. Thankfully, much of that has changed. Bühler is modifying older wafer technology not only to enhance the texture of baked snacks but also to create new ones.

“We actually bake under pressure to come up with a completely different snack that’s resounding now with consumers concerning the bite and texture of their snacks,” said Kevin Knott, technical sales manager, Bühler Group. “It’s completely different from what we traditionally see with snacks, which are fried and baked. Another eating advantage is the close to no fat in the product. We even add some fat if we want to enhance the taste of the product.”

The new process creates that pressure by adding batter then closing and locking the cast-iron plates.

“We lock them because we’re adding batter that’s 42% moisture, and we’re coming out with less than 2%,” Mr. Knott explained. “All that moisture evaporating from the product is generating steam inside the baking plates. And because the snacks are only 3 or 4 mm between the two plates, that evacuation of steam creates a tremendous amount of pressure and gives the snacks their unique texture.”

When frying, the latest batch and vacuum technology allow for snacks with lower levels of fat and acrylamide, a potentially carcinogenic substance, said Mr. De la Force.

Vacuum frying continuously cooks snacks at a low temperature — typically below 212˚F (100˚C) — and under less pressure.

“This reduces the degradation of the product’s surface structure, lowering the amount of oil absorbed by the product to enable significant fat reduction with minimal impact on product quality,” he said.

The process significantly slows or eliminates acrylamide formation, especially in parsnips, beets, carrots, apples, kiwifruit or other fruits and vegetables that typically contain high levels of natural sugars.

“Snack food producers are thus able to move away from traditional potato chip formats and develop healthier, low-fat products that appeal to consumers,” Mr. De la Force said.

Additionally, TNA is exploring a batch frying process that also operates at a low temperature for a longer length of time.

In the past, companies touted the healthy attributes of their baked snacks, which, unfortunately, tasted like cardboard. Thankfully, much of that has changed.

“These lower temperatures reduce acrylamide formation, creating healthier and safer fruit and vegetable chips,” Mr. De la Force said. “So far, it has proven to work particularly well for fruits and vegetables like beets, bananas, cassava or carrots, all which contain high levels of starch and/or reducing sugars.”

With seasonings, snack manufacturers are seeking enhanced process controls. Heat and Control offers Totally Automated Seasoning Control (TASC), which performs real-time adjustments to seasoning flow rates based on mass-flow data from the company’s Ishida weigher dispersion cone.

“With TASC, seasoning coverage is collected in real time and used automatically to make adjustments while product is currently in-flight instead of hours or shifts later,” said Blake Svejkovsky, general manager, product handling systems, Heat and Control.

The company also is working on an improved dry seasoning applicator that will be gravimetrically controlled and deter even the toughest seasonings from bridging in the hopper, said Lucas Bell, general manager, Spray Dynamics, a Heat and Control product brand

Additionally, Heat and Control is pursuing further advancement of its pulsating and continuous liquid application systems to apply the precise amount of liquid.

“We are constantly looking for ways to improve our existing product offerings, as well as pushing the boundaries and developing innovative liquid and dry seasoning applicators,” Mr. Bell said.

Capable of handling wet and dry seasonings in a single drum, TNA’s intelli-flav OMS 5.1 incorporates technologies such as a responsive variable mass seasoning system, an optional high-capacity stainless-steel drum, a heated oil circulation system and an integrated bulk powder fill technology system to season a range of hot or cold snack products.

Mr. De la Force noted that the company’s on-machine seasoning (OMS) system allows one production line to feed several OMS systems, meaning that multiple flavors can be applied at any one time. He added the systems can be cleaned for changeovers without stopping production.

Overall, more advanced equipment may be needed when seasoning or spraying B.F.Y. products that carry health or nutrition claims, suggested Norm Searle, sales and marketing, GOE/Amherst Stainless Fabrication.

“To meet labeling requirements, the system must accurately deliver the specified amount to each product regardless of its location or speed of the conveyor,” he said. “Both a B.F.Y. and conventional snack will be sprayed using the same system, but one possibly being more automated than the other. The more automated system, the less likely you are to produce an inferior product.”

That’s because a more automated system requires less operator intervention, ensures setpoints are maintained and alarms when not. In addition, records are maintained documenting all activity. Mr. Searle added automated cleaning and sanitizing minimizes the chance of timing, temperature and valve-motor sequencing issues on spraying systems.

This article is an excerpt from the February 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on snack processing, click here