Puffed rice and the molecular changes that determine its structure
The Rice Krispies™ process consists essentially of the cooking of short or medium rice grains, followed by a mechanical compression between two rolls (bumping), a tempering step and a toasting operation (puffing) which expands the grains into the finished product. The objectives of this project were to clarify which molecular phenomena take place inside the rice grains during the process and to facilitate the improvement and optimisation of the process parameters. The composition and gelatinisation behaviour of seven different raw rice varieties used either in the United States or the United Kingdom were studied. The glass transition of the cooked rice material was determined by dynamic mechanical thermal analysis (DMTA), which allowed each step of the process to be mapped onto a temperature / moisture content state diagram. The bumping step of the process and its effect on the various molecular entities present in the cooked rice were studied in details. Amylose was found to form complexes with the lipids present in the material during cooking, and these reinforced the cooked rice grain structure. One of the roles of the bumping could be to partially dislocate these amylose-lipid complexes to enable the rice grains expansion at the puffing step of the process. The bumping also reduced the molecular weight of amylopectin, which is thought to weaken the rice grains structure and improve the puffed grains expansion. The mill gap between the bumping rolls was the key factor determining the quality of the puffed product. The temperature at which the rice grains are bumped had a secondary influence on the quality of the puffed rice, within the range 26°C to 57°C. The RVA provided a very effective method to categorise post-bumped samples and could be a useful diagnostic tool in case of production problems. Evidence of physical ageing and moisture content equilibration during the tempering step was found. Physical ageing did not have a detectable effect on the expansion of the rice grains, while it was important that moisture content was equilibrated inside the grains to ensure a proper puffing. Finally, correlations were found between the puffed rice grains expansion and the post-bumped grains height recovery, which made it possible to predict the quality of the expanded grains from the characterisation of the post-bumped rice. Overall, the project is a good example of the application of general starch science concepts to the study of a specific industrial process.