“When you're going from back room or consumer formulations to production, even simple mistakes can make a difference,” says Jordan Stivers, vice president, product development, Blendex Co., Louisville, Ky. Errors can occur when employees are measuring out dry ingredients, he notes, and these miscalculations can adversely affect product taste, texture and processing.
Checking It TwiceHis company spares food companies such pitfalls by double weighing all ingredients. Then, just before blending, ingredients are blind weighed; one worker weighs them without any references, and another worker checks them against specifications. Yield is checked after blending to be sure the mixture comes out correctly.
This is typical procedure for a company that employs Total Quality Management and has a HACCP accreditation from the American Institute of Baking. The company inspects all incoming ingredients for quality and cleanliness. Its just-in-time inventory system ensures ingredients are fresh and at their peak flavor. When it comes to natural ingredients such as spices, they make adjustments for seasonal changes in color or flavor.
Creating a uniform dry blend is a challenge when the ingredients vary among dense particulates like whole spices; light, delicate herbs; powdery ground spices or flour; and granular ingredients like salt or sugar. Workers carefully calculate optimum blending time on the company's ribbon blenders.
“We use adequate blending time, but we don't overblend,” explains Stivers, “because whole oregano will break up and color smearing will occur...paprika will color the whole blend.”
Oils or oleoresins are plated onto salt or dextrose for even dispersion. A small amount of soybean oil added to the mixture can keep spices dispersed evenly. Formulations with high sugar content or oleoresins may need an anti-caking agent—like silica dioxide—to keep them from lumping.
Packaging protects the dry blends from light and oxidation. The company supplies sizes from 44,000-lb tanker trucks, into which blends are blown, to 4-oz pouches. Intermediate sizes are 2,000-lb bulk bags on pallets, 100-lb bags, 50-lb bags and 25- or 20-lb bags. A 50-lb box is filled with 20 small pouches. Package sizes can be customized to fit the customer's batch requirements. Poly liners in bulk packaging, and foil or multi-layer package materials protect blends from light so the colors do not fade; they also protect spices from migration of volatile oils.
Sidebar: Blends for All SeasonsA Floribbean seasoning blend for rotisserie chicken was only one of the challenges met by the food technologists at Blendex. It called for black and white peppers and fruit flavors like lemon, lime, orange, mango and papaya. The team found heat-stable fruit flavors that blended well with the peppers. Traditional flavors in dry mixes are very popular—like beef gravy, cream gravy and Southern fried chicken seasoning—says Jordan Stivers, vice president, product development, Blendex.
The company meets the needs of pizza producers with its mixes for various styles of crust and sauce. It also serves chicken producers with marinades, pre-dusts, batters, breadings, spice rubs and barbecue sauces—as well as the biscuits and hush puppies that accompany them. Recent innovations include a line of beverages and cocktail mixes and a line of colored sugars and salts to decorate glass rims, product toppings and plating arrangements.