From corn to masa to corn chip — how the magic happens

Monday, 22 July, 2019

From corn to masa to corn chip — how the magic happens

Tortillas and corn chips are made from food-grade corn that is grown, harvested, bought by a food company, turned into masa (dough from ground corn) through a chemical process and made into corn-based products. Each step has implications for the next, with scientists researching each step to maximise its benefits for companies and consumers.

“Breeding, production and processing of food-grade corn is a massive industry,” said Candice Hirsch from University of Minnesota. “Yet, there is limited knowledge on each of these steps.”

Each step pertains to many scientific areas, with information on each step spread across scientists with little overlap and cause for communication. Hirsch and her team reviewed knowledge on making corn into food products, using information from both universities and industry to bridge the gap between scientists and their respective fields of research.

The researchers underscored the importance of corn quality and masa quality, though the breeding of food-grade corn receives minimal resources. As this corn is made into consumable products, providing better quality corn will provide a better product to consumers. The benefits of providing better corn include a higher yield, leading to less cost and cheaper products, increasing the quality of the products consumed. Researchers reviewed how corn chips are made and the factors that affect taste, texture and nutritional aspects of chips.

Researchers analysed the hardness of corn kernels and how it affects the transportation of corn kernels. Cracks in kernels during shipping, and their starch levels, can affect moisture uptake in the masa-making process. Grain quality can impact the quality and consistency of masa, which in turn affects the texture and taste of the final product.

Plant breeders, agronomists, chemists, food scientists and production specialists must research these areas of food production to understand how to breed and grow corn to produce high-quality masa.

“We would like to determine which attributes are best to allow us to breed better corn, and also come up with methods to test these attributes,” Hirsch said. “Another application is doing screening so companies buying corn can determine if a shipment has the necessary attributes to make a high-quality product.”

The collaboration between University of Minnesota, PepsiCo and Corteva is instrumental in reviewing research in this area, defining what is known and unknown across the value chain, and how to fill the gaps.

Image credit: ©

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