To increase the quality of corn used in foods such as tortillas and chips, scientists from University of Minnesota, PepsiCo and Corteva Agriscience are calling for more research on the ingredient’s production. In the Crop Science journal article “Food-Grade Maize Composition, Evaluation, and Genetics for Masa-Based Products,” authors state that an insufficient understanding of maize’s chemical and physical properties contributes to poor masa quality. 

"Breeding, production, and processing of food grade corn is a massive industry," said Candice Hirsch, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Minnesota and co-author of the article. "Yet, there is limited knowledge on each of these steps."

She added that corn’s value chain spans many scientific areas, and researchers fail to disseminate information across different fields of study. 

To better understand where research is lacking, eight scientists reviewed academic and industry studies on corn-based food production. They found that plant breeding is largely ignored in this literature, despite the benefits that higher quality maize would bring to food companies and consumers. A greater focus on this area could result in larger yields that bring down the ingredient’s costs and increase its grade.

"The quality of grain and masa is extremely important to the final product quality," Dr. Hirsch explained. "If the consistency of the masa is not correct, there will be consequences for the texture and taste of the final products."

The paper’s authors called for more investigation into breeding and growing corn so food companies could upgrade the masa used in products.

"Ideally we would like to determine which attributes are best to allow us to breed better corn, and also come up with methods to be able to quickly test these attributes," Dr. Hirsch said. "Another application is doing screenings so companies buying corn can determine if a shipment has the necessary attributes to make a high-quality product."

She added that the collaboration between the University of Minnesota, PepsiCo, and Corteva was critical in evaluating the research in this area. The partnership allowed the team to fill in missing information gaps across the value chain. To continue this work, the researchers believe the collaborative efforts of plant breeders, agronomists, chemists, food scientists, production specialists as well as other industry specialists are needed.