One of the primary ways poultry processors add value to any product is breading. Two of the biggest reasons processors add breading to poultry is to enhance or add flavor and texture.
“I believe there are two major types of breading systems in the poultry industry, flatbed applications and homestyle applications,” said Robert Nothum Jr., president of Springfield, Mo.-based Nothum Food Processing Systems. “Within those two there are several options and varieties, but those two make up the majority. Flatbed will cover your formed products like nuggets and patties. Homestyle will cover the textured products like strips, tenders and chunks. Of course, there are lots of other products in between those, but that is the majority.”
Doug Kozenski, processing industry manager, Heat and Control, Hayward, Calif., adds that breading poultry products can range from very light to very heavy flour or crumb coating. Flour gives the poultry a softer coating and bite while crumb coatings provide the crunchy texture that many processors look for.
“Light coatings are preferred for product when most of the flavor and the texture come from the meat itself, whereas heavier coatings are chosen when most of the flavor and the texture come from the coating itself,” Kozenski said.
For processors to achieve one or more of the range of breadings a large number of variables factor into the equation.
At minimum poultry coatings consist of three parts: predust, batter and final breading. For heavier final coatings, processors and their equipment must “build up” the coatings through multiple stages. Common processes often include a predust, batter, breading, another batter, and then a final breading.
“This can extend to a three-pass system when even heavier coatings are required,” Kozenski said. “It is important to build up the coating to allow the batter(s) and the breading(s) to have time to properly hydrate and to attach themselves to the product. If a heavy coating is added too quickly, as in a single step, the coating will not properly adhere and will either fall off during frying or handling, resulting in uncoated product.”
Nothum pointed out that batter plays an important role in breading, especially in product appearance. He said batters and their applicators often get overlooked and only considered as a means to add pickup to the final product.
“The reality is that batter plays a huge role in what the end product will look, taste and feel like,” Nothum said. “The main issue is that processors don’t have real control over their batter mixers or applicators.”
For homestyle breading specifically, equipment manufacturers and suppliers agree that final appearance dictates homestyle breading success. That final appearance comes from the ability to make adjustments. The surface of a homestyle breaded product should have a rough appearance to give it that handmade look and differentiate it from smoother, “machine processed” appearances.
“The best homestyle appearance is created by a perfect combination of process, coating and equipment,” Nothum said. “One of the strengths we have is experience with not only equipment, but also with process. Over the almost 50 years of doing business we have figured out the small and large adjustments that can be made to processes to help decrease waste and labor while increasing pickup and yield.”
It’s common for processors to use a drum breader for the final application of flour breading to flip or roll the substrate to produce the homestyle appearance. Operators will seed the drum breader by adding a small amount of moisture with batter mix or water causing the breading to clump slightly. The seeded breading adheres to the surface of the poultry and creates the homestyle look.
“The amount of moisture added and the speed at which the product passes through the drum breader will vary the intensity of the homestyle look and the amount of coating picked up, giving the producer the ability to fine-tune the appearance and the texture of the product,” Kozenski said.
Nothum and Kozenski agree that improvements in breading technology come exclusively in innovations to the equipment processors use.
Nothum Food Processing introduced its FlexDrum and BatterPro in the late ‘90s and continued to evolve and innovate. The FlexDrum became the SuperFlex and both pieces of equipment gave processors more control over further processing regarding the predust, breading and batter application.
“Processors have real control and understanding as to what is happening on their further processing lines,” Nothum said.
Another equipment evolution to take place in recent years is the manufacturer and processor focus on safety. As with all food processing equipment, batter application and breading equipment manufacturing companies have dedicated design and construction to sanitation and worker safety in recent years. In addition, Heat and Control engineers and builders work on functionality, durability and reliability of equipment.
“The durability of the belt itself has been a constant issue with all belted breaders,” Kozenski said. “Due to the tension under which breader belting operates, belts commonly and frequently break. Heat and Control developed a simple, yet highly effective means of dynamic tensioning for the main belt to relieve tension, providing a means of shock absorption and greatly increasing the belt life on our breaders.”
Also, processor preference has begun to shift from the traditional hydraulic drives to electric drives on the moving parts of their coating equipment. Electric drive size and technology has made the design and construction of coating easier and more practical, a key reason for the change.
“This allows for integration of the coating equipment into a PLC-controlled system for automatic speed setting/adjustment and for performance feedback,” Kozenski said.
Just as designs and construction of processing equipment changes and evolves, so do the ways in which customer and supplier and manufacturer and end-user interact and ultimately how they do their business. The Nothum Food Processing team doesn’t need to fight against the industry as a whole to push innovations and make changes for the better.
“Now, we work every day with our customers and even different vendors to bring even greater technology to the market,” Nothum said.
He added Nothum Food Processing’s history and dedication to being a family business since its beginnings.
“Our founder Bob Nothum Sr. started our company 50 years ago and put us on a great path forward and with future generations there will be even more to help move our industry forward,” Nothum said.
Heat and Control places great emphasis on partner relationships. Before providing equipment to a processor for coating and breading poultry, the company meets with potential partners to discuss characteristics such as ingredients and the end-product, spending as much time as necessary to fully understand a processor’s needs.
“It is important to understand if the meat is boneless or bone-in, formed or whole muscle, and how it will be loaded on the line,” Kozenski said. “The type and amount of coating is then discussed. It is important to know the amount of coating that is to be added to the meat, the texture the product is to have, as well as any other specific characteristics. When all this information is understood, it is then possible to design the optimal system to accomplish the desired end-product. It may be that a single-pass line is sufficient, but for a heavier coated product, a double or even triple pass line may be necessary.”
Suppliers and their customers must also consider the type of product before making breading and batter application equipment decisions. For example, coating equipment that uses a linear process works better for a formed product to prevent damage. Boneless or bone-in whole muscle items may be best with, or require, drum breaders for the pre-dust and final breading applcations.
“Understanding all the attributes and characteristics of the raw and finished product will allow for the design of the most suitable and compatible coating system to ensure full and stable coating of the product,” Kozenski said