Die-cut tortilla systems require an extruder and sheeter to scale the dough to its appropriate thickness, usually between 1/8 in. and 3/8 in.
Interleaving options are available for stacking equipment. Paper inserts reduce the risk of tortillas sticking together and tearing.
Flour tortillas are one of the most popular and successful products in the baking industry. They have survived negative baking trends and continue to show growth. This growth is expected to continue for years to come because of tortillas' versatility. Not only are tortillas used in dishes such as tacos, fajitas, quesadillas and burritos, but tortillas are used as sandwich wraps and salad bowls.
Bakers looking to jump into this market need to be aware of the mixing, makeup, baking, cooling and stacking requirements for flour tortillas. Making these products also requires bakers to respect the history that tortillas carry. "With this product, there is a greater ethnic responsibility," one tortilla system manufacturer says, "because many people have eaten tortillas all of their lives, and they won't buy bad products."
Flour tortillas are categorized by their makeup. Tortillas can be hand stretched, pressed or die cut. As its name implies, hand-stretched tortillas are pulled by hand into a circle. This type of flour tortilla is dull in appearance and has a powdery texture due to the residual flour on its surface. Handstretched tortillas also are dry and dense with little flaking.
Most high-volume bakers choose to press or die-cut tortillas.Pressed flour tortillas are shaped from dough balls into circles by a heat press. Pressed tortillas appear smooth and shiny with layering and flaking. These tortillas feel light and pliable, and are easily rolled without tearing.
Die-cut tortillas are made from sheeted dough that moves under a die. This cuts tortillas to their appropriate sizes. Similar to hand-stretched tortillas, diecut tortillas have residual flour on the surface and feel dry and powdery. They also do not have flakes or layers.
The makeup of the tortilla impacts how it is mixed. Dough for pressed tortillas should be slightly undermixed at temperatures between 90°F and 100°F. This helps the dough relax after dividing and rounding.
Die-cut tortillas require a cooler and more developed dough than pressed tortillas. Die-cut tortilla dough should be mixed at temperatures between 80°F and 90°F. These tortillas also require dough conditioners and oxidizing agents because the dough is stressed during production. Because die-cut tortillas require enzymes in their formulations, bakers should consider a mixer that allows air to be folded into the dough for enzyme activation, one tortilla system manufacturer says.
Not only have tortillas grown in popularity, but they also have grown in size. Years ago, 6-in. tortillas were standard. Today, 8- and 12-in. tortillas are the biggest sellers. Bakers must accommodate this change in their makeup system.
In a press makeup system, dough is taken from the mixer to the divider and rounder to be shaped into dough balls according to the tortillas' size. These dough balls are fed through a loading device that positions the dough onto a pressing belt. Underneath the belt is an opening that each dough ball drops into to ensure that it does not roll out of place. The belt moves, carrying the dough balls toward pressing plates. These plates and the surface underneath the belt are heated, with electricity or oil, to temperatures between 350°F and 450°F. The plates press down onto the dough balls, forming tortillas.
There are several advantages to the heat press, one tortilla system manufacturer says. The heat press does not damage the matrix of the gluten, as opposed to the diecut press, which requires the dough to be extruded and sheeted. The heat press ensures that the gluten matrix is in one direction, causing the dough to remain intact during production and consumption. The manufacturer also says that heat press tortillas are able to take more abuse. Bakers can freeze and thaw them without damaging the product.
However, press-cut systems may not produce tortillas with uniform shapes and thickness. One tortilla system manufacturer offers two solutions: The first is to make sure that dough balls are within a gram of their specified weights, and the second is to ensure an accurate loading system.
"We have a system that is like yanking the tablecloth underneath the wine bottle," the manufacturer says. "We station [the dough balls], and then rip out from underneath. We press down on them so that they won't roll, and prepress them. That's an important factor."
If tortillas manage to have irregular shapes or thickness, this manufacturer also offers a vision inspection and sorting system that measures the quality of tortillas. Placed just prior to packaging, the vision system has a camera that inspects each tortilla on 11 parameters of quality. These parameters include diameter, roundness, toast marks, if the product has holes, and if the product is translucent or gummy.
Unlike press systems, die-cut systems always produce consistently sized tortillas. Die-cut tortilla dough requires an extruder. Because the tortilla dough is stiff, a dual auger pump may be required, one die-cut system manufacturer says. After extrusion, dough is sheeted to a specified thickness, usually between 1/8 in. and 3/16 in., using a cross sheeter. The dough then feeds to a cutting belt and moves under the die. The die cuts the tortillas to their appropriate sizes. The die-cut system also produces scrap dough. The scrap is collected, either manually or automatically, and is returned to the extruder.
Besides maintaining a consistent size, shape and thickness, die-cut systems offer other advantages. A die-cut system saves space and time, one manufacturer says. Press systems contain a divider, rounder and usually an immediate proofer. Die-cut systems do not require those pieces of equipment.
However, die-cut systems stress the dough, due to the extruding and sheeting processes, which is then repeated for scrap dough. Die-cut tortillas also do not generally hold up in freezing and thawing conditions.
One die-cut manufacturer offers a system that he says is gentle on tortillas. This system features feeding rollers that never put pressure on the dough, he says. These rollers are octagonal in shape and have space on each end and between each roller. The system also has spreading rollers that do not touch the dough, but rather vibrate, which releases the stress in the dough. After one side of the dough is worked, it is turned over so the rollers can vibrate and release dough stress on the other side. The dough is cut using round cutters, as opposed to oblong cutters, which eliminates stress, he says. This manufacturer also offers a preheating system to seal the surface of the dough before it is baked.
After flour tortillas are cut, they are transported to the oven. Pressed tortillas should be baked between 24 and 40 seconds, depending on their thickness and the desired color of the finished tortilla. Oven temperature ranges from 375°F to 500°F. Die-cut tortillas should be baked between 17 and 25 seconds with temperatures ranging from 425°F to 500°F.
After leaving the oven, tortillas move to a cooling conveyor for two to five minutes in ambient air, or for one to two minutes in a cooling chamber at 40°F. Tortillas must be properly cooled, otherwise they will stick together.
Stacking and packaging are the last steps in tortilla production. Tortillas are packaged in one to two dozen counts, and placed in containers for shipping.
One manufacturer offers interleaving options with his company's stacking equipment. In this interleaving system, as tortillas come off of the bakery line, they move toward the interleaver. The interleaver has an eye that senses the leading edge of the tortilla. At this point, paper from underneath the interleaver is cut and automatically placed underneath the tortilla. Then the tortilla, on the piece of paper, moves toward the stacker. The stacker also has an eye that senses the tortilla, which is then picked up by a set of fingers and gently dropped onto a stack. Once the specified amount of tortillas is in the stack, it is ready to be packaged.
This system can be upgraded with longer fingers and faster infeeds. Different stacking modules also are available, depending on the diameter of the tortillas. This system runs at 150 to 200 tortillas per minute, per lane. The stacking machine handles tortillas up to 20 ins., the interleaving system handles tortillas up to 12 ins.
Tortillas are one of the most popular bakery foods in the marketplace. If bakers are aware of the type of tortilla they want to produce, and the tortilla's specifications in mixing, makeup, baking, cooling and stacking, bakers can produce quality tortillas.