As you’ve likely heard, breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Breakfast cereals are enjoyed by billions of people daily and are available in a variety of diverse types and flavors.
Moisture measurement is critical in the cereal manufacturing process. Knowledge of the moisture content at the exit of the cooker, cooker extruder and exit of the toaster yields important information that can be utilized to maintain the consistent form, taste and texture of the cereal—not to mention optimize product yield, reduce scrap and save on energy costs. On-line measurements give instantaneous information, enabling tighter process control than can be obtained through lab analyzed data.
Processes vary, but one example may contain:
Incoming grain is inspected and cleaned. It may be used as a whole grain or it may require further processing. It is then crushed between large metal rollers to remove the outer layer of bran and ground more finely into flour. Ground grains are then mixed with flavoring agents, vitamins, minerals, sweeteners, salt and water in a large rotating pressure cooker. The time, temperature and speed of rotation vary with the type of grain being cooked.
The cooked grain is moved to a conveyor belt, which passes through a drying oven. Enough of the water remains in the cooked grain to result in a soft, solid mass which can be shaped as needed.
If flour is used instead of grains, it is cooked in a cooking extruder; at the end of the extruder, the cooked dough emerges as a ribbon. A rotating knife then cuts the ribbon into pellets. Pellets are processed the same way as cooked grains.
The cooked grains are cooled for several hours which allow the stabilization of the moisture content of each grain. This process is known as tempering. The tempered grains are flattened between large metal rollers under tons of pressure. The resulting flakes are conveyed to ovens where they are tossed in a blast of very hot air to remove remaining moisture and to toast them to a desirable color and flavor. (Please note: Flakes may also be made from extruded pellets.)
Cereals may be puffed in ovens or in so-called “guns.” Oven-puffed cereals are usually made from rice. The rice is cooked, cooled, dried and then rolled between metal rollers like flaked cereals, but it is only partially flattened. This process is known as bumping. The bumped rice is dried again and placed in a very hot oven which causes it to swell. (Please note: Extruded pellets can also be used to make gun-puffed cereals.)
Shredded cereals are usually made from wheat. The wheat is cooked in boiling water and then cooled and allowed to temper. It is then rolled between two metal rollers, shredded and dropped off the rollers in a continuous ribbon. A conveyor belt catches the ribbons from several pairs of rollers and piles them up in layers. The layers of shredded wheat are cut to the proper size, then baked to the desired color and dryness. (Please note: Shredded cereals may also be made in a similar way from extruded pellets.)
After shaping, the cereals may be coated with vitamins, minerals, sweeteners and other flavors. Frosting is applied by spraying thick, hot syrup of sugar on the cereal in a rotating drum.
The cereals are then packaged by weight for shipment.
Moisture measurement at the exit of the cooker, prior to the extruder or former, reduces the quantity of misshapes through product sticking or disintegrating in the flaking process. Moisture measurement after toasting enables maximization of final moisture, which optimizes yield without compromising taste, texture, and shelf-life characteristics.
A food-grade MCT-466SF (NIR) transmitter incorporates a food grade stainless steel enclosure and either a Kel F polymeric or sapphire viewing window. An optional water/air cooling panel or Vortec cooler are available if the ambient temperature exceeds 55°C.
A QuikCheck (NIR) benchtop analyzer is used either in the laboratory or at-line for quick, accurate and reliable sample testing.
Moisture measurements can be made on- or off-line. Online measurements greatly improve efficiency; they eliminate the need for routine laboratory moisture testing and provide an instantaneous measurement so that necessary process changes can be implemented sooner. Off-line moisture measurements are simple, sample a greater product area and are quicker to effect than using Infrared balances or oven tests. This will promote shelf life and ensure that the final product meets the nutritional label specifications on the package.
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