General production process
Grain is received at the cereal factory, inspected, and cleaned. It may be used in the form of whole grains or it may require further processing. Often the whole grain is crushed between large metal rollers to remove the outer layer of bran. It may then be ground more finely into flour.
Whole grains or partial grains (such as corn grits) are mixed with flavoring agents, vitamins, minerals, sweeteners, salt, and water in a large rotating pressure cooker.
The cooked grain then passes through a drying oven. Enough of the water remains in the cooked grain to result in a soft, solid mass which can be shaped as needed.
If flour is used instead of grains, it is cooked in a cooking extruder. This device consists of a long screw within a heated housing. The motion of the screw mixes the flour with water, flavorings, salt, sweeteners, vitamins, minerals, and sometimes food coloring. The screw moves this mixture through the extruder, cooking it as it moves along. At the end of the extruder, the cooked dough emerges as a ribbon. A rotating knife cuts the ribbon into pellets. These pellets are then processed in much the same way as cooked grains.
The cooked grains are allowed to cool for several hours, stabilizing the moisture content of each grain. This process is known as tempering. The tempered grains are flattened between large metal rollers under tons of pressure. The resulting flakes are conveyed to ovens where they are tossed in a blast of very hot air to remove remaining moisture and to toast them to a desirable color and flavor. Instead of cooked grains, flakes may also be made from extruded pellets in a similar manner.
Making puffed cereals
Cereals may be puffed in ovens or in so-called “guns.” Oven-puffed cereals are usually made from rice. The rice is cooked, cooled, and dried. It is then rolled between metal rollers like flaked cereals, but it is only partially flattened. This process is known as bumping. The bumped rice is dried again and placed in a very hot oven which causes it to swell.
Gun-puffed cereals may be made from rice or wheat. The rice grains require no pretreatment, but the wheat grains must be treated to partially remove the outer layer of bran. This may be done by abrading it off between grindstones, a process known as pearling. It may also be done by soaking the wheat grains in salt water. The salt water toughens the bran, which allows it to break off in large pieces during puffing. The grain is placed in the gun, a small vessel which can hold very hot steam and very high pressure. The gun is opened quickly to reduce the pressure suddenly, which puffs the grain. Extruded pellets can also be used to make gun-puffed cereals in the same way as grains.
Making shredded cereals
Shredded cereals are usually made from wheat. The wheat is cooked in boiling water to allow moisture to fully penetrate the grain. The cooked grain is cooled and allowed to temper. It is then rolled between two metal rollers. One roller is smooth and the other is grooved. A metal comb is positioned against the grooved roll with a tooth inside each groove. The cooked grain is shredded by the teeth of the comb and drops off the rollers in a continuous ribbon. A conveyor belt catches the ribbons from several pairs of rollers and piles them up in layers. The layers of shredded wheat are cut to the proper size, then baked to the desired color and dryness. Shredded cereals may also be made in a similar way from extruded pellets.
Making other cereals
Cereals can be made in a wide variety of special shapes (circles, letters of the alphabet, etc.) with a cooking extruder. A die is added to the end of the extruder which forms a ribbon of cooked dough with the desired cross-section shape. A rotating knife cuts the ribbon into small pieces with the proper shape. These shaped pieces of dough are processed in a manner similar to puffing. Instead of completely puffing, however, the pieces expand only partially in order to maintain the special shape.
Granolas and similar products are made by mixing grain (usually oats) and other ingredients (nuts, fruits, flavors, etc.) and cooking them on a conveyor belt which moves through an oven. The cooked mixture is then crumbled to the desired size. Hot cereals are made by processing the grain as necessary (rolling or cutting oats, cracking wheat, or milling corn into grits) and partly cooking it so the consumer can cook it quickly in hot water. Salt, sweeteners, flavors, and other ingredients may or may not be added to the partly cooked mixture.