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4. Snack foods


Nutritional significance
Processing
Packaging and storage
Suitability for small-scale production

Snack foods are foods which can be eaten in place of, or in between, meals. They are convenient because they are quick and easy to eat. The term 'snack food' does not only apply to some of the newer products such as potato crisps, but it also includes many traditional food items.

Most snack foods are intended for immediate consumption and have a shelf-life of only 1-2 days. Such food products may be sold loose without packaging, or in small polythene or paper packages which contain a portion for sale. If required, the shelf-life may be extended considerably through the use of adequate packaging.

In most countries people from nearly all income groups consume snack food products. For example, a recent study in Indonesia revealed that the largest consumer groups in the urban areas were workers and schoolchildren.

Snack foods add variety to the diet which partially explains their popularity. They may also play a cultural role on special occasions or when offered to visitors.

Nutritional significance

Snack foods frequently receive criticism due to their high levels of salt, sugar, and fat. They are seen to be nutritionally damaging when eaten regularly in place of a traditional food.

Snack foods, however, can be very nutritious when made from fruits, pulses, or cereals. It should also be pointed out that the consumption of snack foods does not necessarily lead to health problems such as obesity, but the cause is rather an unbalanced diet with excess fat, sugar, and salt. Therefore, if these food products are part of a wider diet, they can be an important source of fats and energy, particularly for the poorer sectors of society whose diet may be lacking in these nutrients.

Often, it is cheaper to purchase snack foods than it is to make a meal at home. This is likely to be one of the reasons why poor people are relying more and more on such products. Along with the convenience factor, this may, for example, explain the increase in sales of sweet buns to workers in Bangladesh.

Selling packaged snack foods

Thus, in relation to the accusation that snack foods are making the poor malnourished, it may also be that poverty is forcing poor people to rely on snack foods and thus malnutrition is really a symptom of poverty.

Selling loose snack foods

Processing

Snack foods are made from a wide range of raw materials and the preparation differs from product to product. Frying, however, is the main process by which many are made and this is considered in detail here. (It should also be noted that concentrated milk solids or fruit pulps are also used for snacks in some countries.)

Principles of frying

Frying alters the eating quality of food. It also provides a preservative effect as the heat treatment destroys microorganisms and enzymes, and there is a reduction in moisture at the surface of the food.

Choice of oil

Most oils used for frying are of vegetable origin, but there is no reason why animal fats cannot be used. The oil used has a great impact on the taste, texture, and keeping-quality of the final product.

Fats and oils are subject to a type of deterioration known as rancidity. This produces disagreeable odours and flavours and makes the fried foods unpalatable. Some oils are more prone to rancidity than others, and this is important when considering which oil to use. In many countries, however, there is only one type of oil widely available at the lowest cost, and processors will use this, despite rancidity problems, if it gives a flavour that is acceptable.

Raw material preparation

Cutting

Cutting into slices or cubes is often the only preparation needed for many snack foods. An ordinary kitchen knife can be used, or one of the many gadgets on the market (both manual and powered), make this stage easier and faster.

Slicing potatoes

Forming

Some snack foods are prepared by forming a dough and then shaping it into pieces. These doughs are usually cereal or pulse-based and may be mixed manually or by using a powered mixer. Shaping can take place by either rolling out and cutting or by extruding the dough into strands before frying Small hand-held extruders are widely available in some countries and can be fabricated locally from materials such as wood or metal. They may be fitted with dies of different shapes and sizes to add variety to the products made.

Extruding dough

Some doughs can be prepared from milk solids. This involves evaporating milk until it forms a thick granular mass. This is then mixed with flour and sugar to produce a dough which is subsequently shaped into balls and fried. Examples are 'Mhisti' in Bangladesh and 'Rasangolla' in India, both of which are served floating in sugar syrup.

Frying

The amount of oil required for frying will vary according to whether the product is to be shallow-fried or deep-fried.

The temperature to which the oil is heated is not limited by a boiling point as with water. Heated oil does however reach a stage at which it breaks down to fumes, which is known as the smoke-point. It is important that oils do not reach the smoke-point when used for frying as this will cause the oil to deteriorate more rapidly and increase the danger of it catching fire. Suitable temperatures for frying are between 180 and 200°C.

Frying can take place using a simple pan heated by an open fire or other heat source. Alternatively, for deep-frying, an electrically powered fryer, fitted with a thermostatic control, gives more control over heating for larger quantities of food.

Draining

Fried products need to be drained adequately in order to remove any excess oil. If this is not achieved the excess oil can make the product soggy, which is particularly important if snack foods are characterized by their crispness. In addition, poorly-drained products are likely to leave a film of oil on the inside of polythene packs. Not only does this look unappetizing, but it will also promote more rapid rancidity.

Leaving the product to drain is rarely sufficient to remove excess oil. Fans may help remove more oil or it can be absorbed into paper. In general, higher temperatures during frying cause less oil to be retained on the product. New oil also sticks to the product less than old oil.

Packaging and storage

Snack foods which are sold for immediate consumption have no need for packaging. For a longer shelf-life the package should provide a barrier to moisture to avoid the product losing its crispness, and to oil, air, and light. As many fried foods are also fragile, the pack should help prevent crushing.

For long-term storage, paper is of no use for this type of product. Polythene, while being a good barrier to moisture and oil seepage, is not a good barrier to light or air. Polypropylene is a better alternative although it is often more expensive.

The following tables outline the production and equipment needed for a selected range of snack foods:

Muchorai

Muchorai is a fried, savoury snack made from green gram and rice flour. It consists of strands extruded into a ring and has a deep yellow colour.

Muchorai

Ingredients

Processing stage

Equipment

Section reference

Rice flour, green gram flour, salt

Weigh and measure ingredients

Weighing and measuring equipment

64.1 and 64.2


Mix dry ingredients

mixer (optional)

43.2

Fat, water

Add fat and water



Mix

Dough mixer (optional)

43.2


Extrude

Extruder

27.2

Oil

Deep-fry

Frying pan or deep-fat fryer

33.0

Heat source

36.0


Drain

Absorbent paper or fan (both optional)



Pack using polythene or polypropylene packs for longer shelf-life

Sealing equipment

47.1

Gulab jamun

Gulab jamun is a milk-based sweet made throughout Asia. It is round in shape and has a deep brown, slightly crisp, outer surface, and is soft and porous inside.

Ingredients

Processing stage

Equipment

Section reference

Milk

Weigh and measure ingredients

Weighing and measuring equipment

64.1 and 64.2


Evaporate the milk

Boiling pan

48.0

Baking powder, flour, sugar, water

Add dry ingredients



Mix

Mixer (optional)

43.2


Add water

Mixer with dough hook (optional)

43.2


Shape



Oil

Shallow fry

Frying pan heat source

36.0


Drain

Fan or absorbent paper (both optional)


Sugar, water

Transfer to sugar syrup



Gulab jamun

Potato crisps

These are potato slices which have been deep-fried. They may be flavoured and sold packaged in a polypropylene bag.

Ingredients

Processing stage

Equipment

Section reference

Potatoes

Wash and peel potatoes

Vegetable cleaners

14.1

Peeling equipment

51.0


Slice potatoes into thin slices

Slicing equipment

17.2

Oil

Deep-fry potato slices

Frying pan or deep-fat fryer

33.0


Drain

Fan or absorbent paper (both optional)


Flavourings e.g. salt

Flavour




Pack into polypropylene bags

Sealing equipment

47.1

Frying jalabees (Bangladeshi sweets)

Suitability for small-scale production

Snack foods are well suited to small-scale production for the following reasons:

· There is a relatively small investment in equipment. Typical kitchen tools can be used to make most products.

· Most snack foods are made from pulses, cereals, milk, fruits, and vegetables. These are usually readily available in the locality.

· The technology is relatively simple and usually well known.

· Adding value to basic raw materials by processing them into snack foods is often a profitable form of employment for small-scale producers.

The range of shapes, colours, flavours, and sizes of snack foods is almost infinite. This allows producers with flair and imagination to develop their own individual products, and develop their businesses.


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