Chips and Snacks
Crisps were invented over 160 years ago and have long been one of the most popular savoury snacks in the world. The classic crisp recipe has changed little over the decades, and although the process is now automated and on a much larger scale, crisps are still mostly made with fresh potatoes, sliced and fried in vegetable oils. It is well-known that crisps were first produced in 1853 by an American Indian chef, George Crum, who worked at the elegant Moon’s Lake House hotel in Saratoga Springs, New York. Railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was an extremely demanding customer, complained that his French fries had not been cut thinly enough and kept on sending them back to the kitchen. Upset that someone was criticising his cooking, Crum cut a new portion of wafer-thin potatoes, fried them in hot oil and then salted them.
SAVOURY SNACKS CAN BE PART OF A BALANCED DIET
Companies are committed to promoting a balanced diet, also through a large variety of different products and by improving the taste and nutritional quality of their products. This is done through the reformulation of standard products and innovation to provide products with an increasing better nutritional composition. Companies provide consumers with nutritional information to help them make informed choices. They also promote healthy diets and lifestyles, for example by participating in and funding sports initiatives, educational programs and physical activity.
In 2020 the continuous growth has rewarded indulgence products as a component of a satisfying and tasty diet. The market of savory chips and snacks, which in the year mentioned had seen an overall increase of 9.7% in volume compared to + 10.6% in value deriving almost exclusively from domestic consumption, closed 2021 with a quantity of 122,480 tons, an increase of 5.3% on the previous year, corresponding to a value of 943.8 million euros, an increase of 8.2%.
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CRISPS ARE NOT THE ONLY SNACK
Many other savoury snacks are produced with different methods. One of these is “extrusion”, which can be divided into two large families: direct and indirect.
Extruded direct expanded snacks (which come in various shapes, including that of corn curls, rings, balls) were invented in the United States in the early 1930s. They are made starting mainly from a mixture of flour and water. This mixture passes through an extrusion cylinder, inside which there is a worm screw that – as it screws – compresses the mixture, creating high pressure that causes the mixture to cook (if the mechanical energy is not sufficient, these machines can also use thermal energies such as steam or diathermic oils which finish cooking the starch). One of the characteristics of this technology is that the starch is completely cooked and therefore the product resulting from this process is ready to eat. The mixture then passes through a die plate at the end of the cylinder, which creates the final shapes. The excess water is then removed from the product (extruded) through a drying process that stabilises it and makes it possible to preserve for a long time. If the recipe calls for it, the product is seasoned and flavoured before being packaged.
This technology is very similar to the previous one, differing only in the partial cooking of the starch in the extrusion stage. This process produces a product that, once dried, must be cooked with various methods (mainly frying and hot air expansion) before being consumed. The basic mix for these products can be much more “complex” than those used for direct expansion because a wider range of ingredients can be used (rice, potato flour, cereals, legumes, fruit, etc.). The shapes of the final product can also be varied (animals, geometric shapes, pasta shapes) and it is possible to produce (extrude) a sheet from which the product can be stamped out like regular biscuits. If the recipe calls for it, after the final cooking stage the products are flavoured and then ready to eat.
These are made from ground corn mixed into dough, rolled in foil and cut into shapes, often triangles. They are toasted, lightly fried and flavoured to make golden, crispy corn chips. Baked snacks are made with potatoes, corn, wheat flour, or a mixture of these and other ingredients such as starch. Although “corn curls” can be called baked snacks, the latter term is generally used for products that are made from an extruded sheet of dough which is then cut and dried to produce a product that is lower in fat. A small amount of oil is usually added to the product before it is flavoured and packaged.
These are salted dry biscuits, usually in the classic shape of a knot, made with pastry made from the finest wheat flour and baked in the oven. There are also other pretzel products, e.g. stuffed pretzels, pretzel pancakes, etc.
Popcorn dates back to the ancient Inca and Peruvian civilizations in around 300 AD. Special varieties of corn are grown for making popcorn, which is classified as a “puff snack”. The raw corn kernels are cooked in the oven, causing them to explode (the corn kernel opening). The end product is ready to be consumed.
These are becoming more and more popular as consumers seek to make healthier food choices. In order to satisfy everyone’s tastes and preferences, the savoury snack industry is responding to consumer demand by offering a wide variety of options. Peanuts are by far the most popular snack. Native to South America, they made their way to Asia and then east across the Atlantic into North America. Peanut plants are believed to have appeared in South America in around 300 BC, and are now mainly grown in India, China, the United States, Africa and Argentina. Technically, the peanut is actually a legume, similar to beans.
Peanuts were not consumed by humans until the Civil War in the United States, when troops from the North and South used it as a food source during hard times. In 1870, P.T. Barnum began serving hot roasted peanuts as a snack at his renowned circus. Peanuts were soon sold at all kinds of public events and in 1906 they fully entered the world of commercial snacks, when Amedo Obici, an Italian immigrant in the United States, developed a commercial oil roasting process for shelled peanuts.
There are many other types of nut-based snacks, such as almonds, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, macadamias and Brazil nuts. It is widely recognised that the regular consumption of walnut can contribute to a healthy and balanced diet. Walnuts are an important source of nutrients, including dietary fibre, copper, iron, magnesium and potassium.