Best practices for hydrating grains, oats, corn, wheat, etc.
One of the most recent trends in food manufacturing has been grain processing to create healthy alternatives to high-sugar beverages and convenience foods. A critical part of creating these products is ensuring the grain is properly hydrated.
Ian Beauchamp, Head of Process Engineering at OAL, gives us an insight into the challenges of hydrating grain and porridge-like products and how they can be overcome with Steam Infusion .
Quality control in grain hydration
First, it can be difficult to control quality to create consistent products. The key to this is efficiently making porridge/hydrating the grains in the most efficient and controlled way.
Traditionally, grain-based products would have a “blending” process where the temperature profile is increased over a period of time to improve flavor. However, with traditional methods such as steam jacketed pans or heat transfer plates, there is a risk that product will burn into the cooking pans from the hot contact surfaces. This will adversely affect the taste as well as the color of the product.
How does steam infusion help?
Steam Infusion injects steam directly into the product, eliminating product burn , Maillard reactions and discoloration. For products that require different characteristics, the operating pressure and temperature can be varied.
For example, Maheu is a corn-based drink that is widely consumed in Africa. When the flow of steam through the Vapor Infusion Vaction™ Pump is varied, the level of shear changes to create a sandy or smooth texture.
A rougher Maheu is considered a more traditional texture and reminiscent of the homemade drink, while a smoother texture makes the drink similar to yogurt. This level of control over your product is unique to the Steam Infusion process.
An added benefit of using steam infusion – particularly with dairy-based products such as porridge – is that you can get a brighter, creamier , fresher-tasting product.
The steam turbulence will distribute the fats in the product into smaller globules to give a creamier mouthfeel without adding additional fat.
Use of energy in grain hydration
The hydration process becomes more energy intensive as the temperature increases and the viscosity of the product increases. This makes it difficult to introduce energy into the product, degrading the thermal energy efficiency. Grain-based products in particular become gelatinous due to swelling of the granules during hydration and can create layers of different viscosities within the product.
The cooking method will also affect the thermal efficiency. Any method that uses a hot contact surface will start to get dirty as the product burns. This leaves a thin film that will also reduce thermal efficiency, preventing your product from cooking as efficiently as it needs.
How does Steam Infusion solve this?
The turbulence generated by steam efficiently and effectively introduces thermal energy into your product, overcoming the challenges of viscous food products. The steam stops the product at high speed, quickly cooking and mixing the food so that a consistent texture is achieved throughout the product, unlike traditional cooking methods.
This efficiency also reduces cooking times , saving energy and increasing production quantities through reduced cycle times.
Cleaning your grain hydration equipment
The film and burn reactions of traditional cooking methods cause another problem - cleanliness. The high temperatures required make the product difficult to burn to avoid the need for more aggressive cleaning operations. This takes up valuable production time and uses more cleaning products and resources.
How is steam infusion different?
With no hot contact surfaces, cleaning becomes much simpler. Steam is introduced into the mixing chamber of the Vaction Pump™ through an annular nozzle under negative pressure conditions, creating a smooth thermal gradient.
The Vaction Pump™ has no obstructions in the product passage and is flushed with fluid in the same way as a line cleaning.
Steam is supplied to the Vaction™ Pump via an insulated lance, again removing any high temperature contact surfaces. These surfaces are easily cleaned, usually with a spray ball. Not only does this save valuable time by not having to remove burnt residue, but less cleaning detergents and less wasted water are also required.