What is Extrusion Cooking?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Extrusion cooking is a technique that makes it possible to create prepared foods within a very short period of time. A number of packaged food products are manufactured using this method, including various types of cereals, textured vegetable protein or TVP products, and a variety of different types of snack foods. Extruded products are found in just about every kitchen pantry today.

Many salty snacks are made through extrusion.
Many salty snacks are made through extrusion.

The actual process of extrusion cooking is very simple. Essentially, the food product is heated under a high degree of pressure, then slowly forced through a series of pores into another cooking chamber. As this process takes place, the moisture content of the food is reduced significantly, leaving behind a product that is thoroughly cooked and dried. The remaining extruded product is then ready for inclusion in dry mixes or further processing to produce many of the packaged products that many consumers rely upon today.

A wide range of packaged foods are prepared by using high tech extrusion cooking techniques. Many of the salty snacks found in supermarkets are prepared using this cooking method. Even breakfast bars made and similar types of healthy foods made with cereal are created using ingredients prepared with this type of cooking. The manufactured foods created using this process are not limited to grains. Soybeans are often prepared using extrusion cooking, with the resulting product forming the basis for a number of vegetarian products.

Because extrusion cooking is a process that combines exposure to high temperatures in a very short period of time, it is possible to produce large quantities of finished products in a very short period of time. Opponents to this process claim that the process robs the food of essential vitamins and nutrients, while proponents of the process understand that with certain foods, extrusion techniques actually lock in essential minerals and vitamins. In any case, extrusion cooking provides many of us with the convenience foods that are part of our daily diet, and are very likely to be with us for many years to come.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@croydon - There are definitely foods that can go through extrusion machines none the worse for wear, or even better off. I imagine tomatoes do well in them, as their nutrients are made easier to digest if they are subjected to heat.

But a food extruder should be used judiciously, in my opinion. We worry too much about the wrong things. If we paid more attention to the nutritional value of food, the world would be a healthier place.


@KoiwiGal - Most foods are going to end up being cooked at some point or another and the nutrients will be lost at that point anyway, if they are that fragile. But extrusion cooking sounds relatively fast compared with other ways of cooking grains, so it might actually conserve vitamins in comparison.

As for moisture, the same thing applies. The kinds of foods that are subjected to extrusion cooking are the ones that you'd probably boil at home anyway, like soy beans. We need cheap and easy ways to process foods like this so that they can be stored, or we open ourselves up to fluctuating food prices.


I can't imagine how this wouldn't completely ruin the food though. I mean, you are essentially making it into paste with an extruding machine, so any original texture must go out the window. And then you get rid of all the moisture and cook it. There are plenty of vitamins that are destroyed by high heat and there are even more that are water soluble, so they would be lost when the liquids are drained.

Which means you're left with almost nothing of nutritional value at the end of the process. It might last a long time, but it doesn't seem like the kind of thing worth waiting for.

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