Alongside spaghetti, fettuccine and penne, macaroni is one of the most popular types of pasta in the world and can be found in household store cupboards across the globe.
Unlike ravioli or tagliatelle, macaroni is very difficult to make at home and is mostly produced on an industrial scale. In this article, we’ll explain how macaroni is made in a factory.
A Short History of Macaroni
No-one is quite sure where the word macaroni comes from. One theory is that the ancient Greeks who established the city of Neopolis – known today as Naples – created a dish made of barley flour to commemorate the dead called macaria. Another is that it comes from the Latin word maccare meaning to crush or pound.
What we do know is that the word makerouns was used in English for the first time in a late 14th century recipe book. It contained the first recipe for mac ‘n’ cheese, although it’s believed to have been more like lasagne than the fantastic festival of fromage we know today.
The industrial production of pasta started as early as the fifteenth century, and if we fast-forward to the nineteenth century, the inimitable Mrs Beeton in her ‘Book of Household Management’ suggested that to Neapolitans, macaroni was the ‘staff of life’.
It seems the Swiss were possibly the first to commercially produce the short hollow tubes in the nineteenth century. Combine that with their famous culture of cheese production and it’s possible that the macaroni and cheese we know today came not from Italy but from Switzerland.
Whatever the truth, macaroni with any type of sweet, savoury or cheesy sauce is, to many, the ultimate comfort food. It’s enjoyed – with all sorts of local tweaks – across much of the world, but how is macaroni produced in a factory? Mac sure you read on to find out.
Macaroni is classically short and tube-shaped, often referred to as elbow-shaped. To discover how macaroni is made, first we’ll tell you how pasta is made. Pasta is made from a mixture of water and coarse ground flour from durum wheat, known as semolina.
The flour is stored in large cylindrical vessels known as silos and the biggest silos can hold up to 70 tonnes of flour. It’s passed through pipes into a mixer where water is added and is kneaded until the flour and water mixture is lumpy.
The next step in answering the question ‘how is macaroni produced in a factory’ is the rolling. The lumpy mixture is passed into a machine called a laminator where it’s rolled into flat sheets by giant cylinders. A vacuum then flattens the mixture, and any air bubbles or water are removed from the dough. The key here is to reduce the water content of the dough to 12%.
To kill off any harmful bacteria, the dough is steamed to a temperature of 104°C.
Here’s the key to how macaroni is made. The warm, pliable dough is passed through an extruder, a large rotating screw that pushes the pasta through metal dies which is then cut to the correct length using large blades.
Cooling & Drying
The individual pieces of macaroni are then cooled and dried for around three hours. If the macaroni is dried too quickly it becomes fragile and can break very easily. Too slowly and it can spoil.
Once the macaroni has passed the stringent quality control tests, it’s packaged from small 500g or 1kg bags for the supermarket shelves up to huge sacks for industrial food processing plants such as the ready meal industry. This is the final step in the process of how macaroni is manufactured.
Macaroni is a budget-friendly, long-lasting food that can be cooked in dozens of different and tasty ways and makes a great base for hundreds of dishes. Head on over to the Food Network for some great ideas for pasta recipes. For a hearty dinner in a hurry, you can add it to soups, stews, chilli, and of course with hot, gooey, melted cheese baked in the oven with a crunchy breadcrumb topping.