Frequently asked questions: crackers

Our expert, Finna Natacia, answers common questions and provides key insights on this snacking category mainstay.

To introduce us to this category, could you please explain how crackers are manufactured?

Manufacturing begins with mixing, a critical step for achieving a cohesive, extensible and machinable dough. Like any baking process, the dough must rest in order to proof. During this stage, it’s especially important to maintain a temperature of 36 to 38 degrees Celsius. This helps to control the amount of carbon dioxide produced – a key factor that affects the air cells and final texture of the finished product.

The dough is then laminated, a process by which the dough is repeatedly folded over itself to create layers for a light and flaky texture. Next, the dough is sheeted to achieve its final, desired thickness. The sheeted dough is then cut into shapes and docked, or punctured with uniform holes, to allow even expansion during baking.  Final steps to complete the process include baking and packaging.

What are the most common types of crackers? How do they differ?

Crackers are classified by their manufacturing method as well as the balance of wheat flour, sugar, leavening agent, fat and water in the formulation. The most common types of crackers are classified as soda crackers, cream crackers and chemically leavened crackers.

Cream crackers and soda crackers or saltine crackers are made with wheat flour that’s 10% to 11% protein, exceeding the amount typically used in chemically leavened crackers. These two varieties are leavened with yeast and tend to have more water, and less fat and sugar, than other crackers. Unlike soda crackers, a layer of dusting flour and fat is applied to cream crackers during the lamination process.

Chemically leavened crackers contain more fat and sugar than most other varieties. Enzymes like proteases and amylases are used in these crackers (in place of yeast) to break down proteins and starches. This technique affects the leavening process and impacts the texture of the final product. A variety of chemical leavening agents — including ammonium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate, and to a certain extent, sodium acid pyrophosphate — can be used in these types of crackers. The leavening agents are responsible for expanding dough, developing browning color and flavor, and affecting the cell size, shape and uniformity of the cracker grain.

What are some of the common challenges manufacturers face when formulating and manufacturing crackers?

Some manufacturers have difficulty sourcing wheat flour with sufficient levels of protein to make crackers with ideal texture attributes. Inconsistent or low-quality wheat flour imparts poor sheetability, which can lead to decreased or uneven expansion of crackers during baking — resulting in a lower production yield.

How can texturizers help cracker manufacturers overcome these challenges?

Texturizers provide consistent dough cohesiveness (aiding sheeting during manufacturing), reduce breakage and deliver consistent expansion during baking. They can also be used to fine-tune the sensory properties of a finished product.

In cracker applications, texturizers are often pre-gelatinized starches derived from different sources such as corn, tapioca, potato and rice. These ingredients provide good moisture-binding during mixing, resulting in a more cohesive and stronger dough for sheeting and lamination. During baking, the texturizers enable moisture to be released easily, benefitting dough expansion.

Waxy starches, which have a higher content of amylopectin, tend to provide a more expanded texture than non-waxy-based starches. If a more blistered look is desired, a waxy-based starch is preferred. Whether you’re developing a hard and snappy cracker or reformulating to achieve a crispy and delicate texture, our broad portfolio of specialty ingredients can help provide the differentiated eating experience today’s consumers’ demand.

Why is native corn starch often used in cracker applications? What are the benefits of replacing this ingredient with specialty ingredients?

Native corn starch is commonly used in cracker formulations for gluten dilution, especially when high-protein wheat flour is the only alternative. But the functionality of native starch is quite limited for improving dough properties and customizing texture. In these instances, native corn starch can be replaced with specialty ingredients for improved texture.

How can texturizers be used in cracker applications to provide the best texture experience?

For improved expansion, the recommended dosage of texturizer is 1% to 3% more than what’s specified in the original recipe. If a highly differentiated texture is required, specialty texturizers can be incorporated into the recipe at much higher levels to achieve the desired sensory attributes. 

What are other considerations for developing a high-quality, delicious cracker?

High-quality and delicious crackers are characterized by a golden color, a just-right crispy or crunchy texture and a uniform look — inside and out. To achieve this finished product quality, it’s important to:

  • Use high-quality ingredients
  • Understand your formulation — know the functional role of every ingredient in the finished product
  • Tightly monitor and control common causes of variability in processing
  • Partner with an ingredient provider offering formulation expertise and technical support  

Finna Natacia

Finna serves as Innovation Lead for low moisture systems in Asia Pacific. She has been with Ingredion since 2008 and has a breadth of experience from working directly in the food industry. Finna is a lead subject matter expert in a variety of bakery and snack applications including crackers, cookies, sheeted snacks, wafers and crispy pies.