Cannabis ingredients like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are expensive, making infused foods and beverages high-value products. In order to protect their inherent value, production methods and equipment need to provide reliable and repeatable process control, with consistent results in line with packaging dosage claims for active cannabinoid ingredients. Nobody wants to see products destroyed due to labeling noncompliance. And mixing equipment is instrumental in achieving even dispersion of active cannabinoid ingredients.
Companies developing and producing foods infused with cannabis ingredients can also protect their investment through formulation and processing strategies that yield products with a longer shelf life, thereby building in more retail flexibility. And using the right mixer technology and process when developing dough-based bakery products like cookies, brownies, cakes, pies, and similar foods is essential.
A matter of scale
Bakery Concepts International LLC, Enola, PA is the exclusive manufacturer and distributor of the Rapidojet hydration and mixing technology for the world, with the exception of the EU, notes Ken Schwenger, president. The company offers the model RJ1000 for small-scale, lab-level production. The model RJ5100 is intended for wholesale production. Output capacity is from approximately 4,000 kg per hour to approximately 7,500 kg per hour.
“We hold patents on the use of high-pressure liquid addition to dries, as well as our Mixing Chamber,” notes Schwenger. “These patents allow the same machine to run all hydration levels, from a totally fluid 5% solution—beverages or hydrocolloid pre-hydration—to adding just a few percentage points of moisture to still free-flowing powders.”
Schwenger notes Rapidojet does not use a metal mixing tool. This helps improve efficiency. “Since we are not driving a mixing tool, energy use is reduced by more than 80% vs. other mixers.” The patented Mixing Chamber replaces the traditional mixing bowl. “This small mechanism is removed from the machine in less than 10 seconds with no tools and is cleaned in a sink by hand in less than 10 minutes.”
Operators can run Rapidojet as a batch mixer or a continuous mixer, notes Schwenger. “So small batches of as little as 20 kg can be produced.”
Schwenger notes batter-based products like brownies, cakes, muffins, and similar products are easily mixed with benefits that include increased yield due to the patented high-pressure liquid addition process. “Almost any liquid can be introduced to any free-falling, dry material at any temperature up to boiling through our Rapidojet machine,” he says.
Dough and batter temperature is an important variable to control for bakers. Rapidojet eliminates the need to use a method of cooling during mixing, such as adding ice, since mixing/hydration occurs in a fraction of a second, says Schwenger.
Rapidojet permits accurate cannabinoid ingredient addition. Production staff have used the equipment to hydrate ingredients like starches and hydrocolloids. “Dry material accuracy is assured via a three-point calibration process, and liquid accuracy is ensured via an internal flow meter,” says Schwenger. “Both are accurate within 1%.”
Expanding production capabilities
Mixers are often production workhorses. “Mixing fulfills many objectives beyond simple combination of raw ingredients,” says Erin Dillon, media and marketing coordinator, Charles Ross & Son Company, Hauppauge, NY. “These include preparing fine emulsions, reducing particle size, carrying out chemical reactions, dissolving components, facilitating heat transfer, etc. So even within a single cannabis or cannabis-infused product line, it is not uncommon to employ several different types of mixers to process raw ingredients, handle intermediates, and prepare the finished product.”
For small-batch mixing, Dillon recommends the ROSS Laboratory High-Shear Mixer Model HSM-100CI-T, because it creates “consistent, stable emulsions,” she says, “and it is adaptable to a broad range of applications, such as batters, sauces, dressings, and purées.”
The mixer’s technology helps ensure tight quality assurance when working with cannabinoids. Dillon notes that the HSM-100LCI-T is comprised of a rotor that turns at high speed within a stationary stator. “The rotor spins within the slotted stator at a speed of 500 to 10,000 rpm, drawing materials from the batch around it. The product enters from underneath the rotor, accelerates, and then is radially discharged at high velocity through the stator’s holes. The product is subjected to mechanical and hydraulic shear with each pass through the rotor/stator, which quickly reduces droplet/particle size for a consistent blend.”
The importance of consistent mixing can’t be undervalued when talking about cannabis and CBD-infused food products, says Dillon. “This mixer allows the customer to blend their products in a variety of vessels—a five-gallon bucket is a popular choice. “It is cost-effective, easy to clean, and provides for quick batch turnover.”
For products that require difficult powder additions, Charles Ross & Son Company offers the ROSS Solids/Liquid Injection Manifold (SLIM) Technology, says Dillon. “The rotor/stator assembly is designed to create negative pressure (vacuum) behind the rotor, which can be utilized to inject powdered (or liquid) components straight into the high-shear zone. Powders such as flour, thickeners, and starches are introduced right into the mix chamber, where they are instantly subjected to intense shear. As solids and liquids are combined and mixed simultaneously, agglomerates are prevented from forming, and dusting is eliminated because dispersion is virtually instantaneous.”
Dillon notes Charles Ross & Son Company can customize the size and scale of its mixers and blenders to suit each customer’s specific production needs. Two common pieces of equipment used in commercial-scale food blending are the company’s Ribbon and Paddle Blenders. “They can be used for making dry powder blends, beverage mixes, spices, flavors, low-viscosity batters, granola, salsas, soups, and so much more,” she says. Available customizations include jacketing for heating/cooling, high-speed choppers, and vacuum design, as well as pressure-fed spray bars that allow for liquid additions and assist in clean-in-place (CIP) and/or washdown.
“We also offer a versatile and broad range of Multi-Shaft Mixers and Planetary Mixers for high-viscosity applications,” says Dillon. “Our PowerMix Planetary Dispersers and Double Planetary Mixers are generally used in the food industry for thick and dense applications, such as cookie dough, bread dough, batters, and frostings. Depending on the application, these mixers can solve a range of common mixing challenges such as poor turnover, batch-to-batch inconsistencies, agglomerates in the finished product, overly long cycle times, etc. Our team here at ROSS can help customers solve these challenges by selecting the right equipment for the job.”
Another production consideration is product discharge, says Dillon. “For example, discharging a viscous batch of thick brownie batter by gravity alone takes a long time and can require additional hours of manual scraping if the product is particularly heavy or sticky. To simplify discharge and clean-up, use an automated discharge system in tandem with a planetary mixer. In most set-ups, the mix vessel is simply wheeled to the discharge station and a platen is lowered into it. A specially fitted O-ring on the platen rides against the vessel wall, literally wiping it clean. Finished product is forced out through a valve in the vessel.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about efficient, consistent production and maintaining tight quality control. “The mixing process, in addition to the extraction step, has a significant impact on whether the end product will achieve the correct dosage, bioavailability, appearance, flavor, texture, and stability or shelf-life,” says Dillon.
Charles Ross & Son Company operates the 8,000-square-foot ROSS Test and Development Center on Long Island, NY, and it’s one of the best-equipped laboratories in the specialty mixing industry, suggests Dillon. “Process line simulations are an important element of product development since they allow our cannabis customers to figure out the best blending strategy, try out different features and options, and test batches for dispersion quality and uniform dosing before purchasing a mixer,” she says. “Our in-house mixing experts provide best practices know-how and help perfect the mixing process for highly reproducible results through proof-of-concept equipment demonstrations using actual raw materials in a formulation.”
Customer collaboration is key to product success. “Our sales and engineering teams work in tandem to ensure our customers are getting the right equipment for their needs,” says Dillon. “We are able to customize our products to solve a wide range of challenges in a landscape that is always changing.”
On a state-by-state level, process equipment used in the cannabis industry need to follow strict specifications for accuracy, consistency, and cleanliness, advises Dillon. “Regulatory and operational standards in the cannabis/CBD space continue to evolve toward traditional pharmaceutical and supplement standards, ensuring end products are safe, pure, and effective. Preemptively exploring and deploying options for mixing technology will ease transitions as manufacturing and processing regulations become more structured, or federally regulated, and as businesses scale up due to growth and demand.”