December 3, 2012
The snacks start as locally sourced fresh crop potatoes or whole grain corn and must end up meeting a gold standard for moisture specification, clump formation, finished oil content, flavor, texture, appearance, and other characteristics—right down to the number of blisters per chip.
Manufacturing Director Mike Stahl described the process of making Lay's potato chips, Fritos corn chips, Doritos and Tostitos chips, and Cheetos:
"The chips start as locally sourced fresh crop potatoes or whole grain corn and all-natural seasonings; no preservatives. It's wholesome. It's real potatoes, real corn," Stahl said.
"The process is fairly simple. Every batch of corn gets cooked with lime and water. The lime softens the corn, and then it's transferred to soak in a tank for about 12 hours. We cook and mill whole-grain corn, and we put heart-healthy oil in it and a dash of salt. After that it gets pumped back to the production area, where it's ground into masa. We can extrude it to make Fritos or Cheetos or sheet it to make Doritos or Tostitos. Obviously, they are different recipes, different rise times and cook time formulations.
"Cheetos start as cornmeal. An operator blends a batch, and that goes through an extruder and gets pumped out in the shape of a Cheetos. It goes through the cooker, and then a cheese slurry is applied before it goes to packaging.
"The Tostitos formulations with white corn are pretty similar. After it's been soaked, the corn is brought over. It's milled, squeezed between rollers and sheeted out, then cut to get that perfect triangular shape.
"Two sheeted corn lines are running today. This one makes bite-size Tostitos, restaurant-style, and regular Tostitos; and then on the other line we're making Doritos."
Gold Standard. Samples are continuously pulled from the lines and an independent third party staffed with professional "sensory" people evaluate, grade, and reference the products to a gold standard for flavor, texture, appearance, and other characteristics—right down to the number of blisters per chip.
"It really starts in corn and potato cooking—how long do you cook them to get a specific amount of moisture? Then you mill the corn to get it to a certain percentage of moisture. It's a very detailed process," Stahl said.
Chips that don't pass muster become animal feed. No complaints have been heard from the animals thus far, but there have been a lot of requests for Pepsi.