Al Dentes’ uses 175 different ingredients (dried, granulated and powdered), along with liquid and encapsulated oils, to create 80 to 100 custom blends.
“Chefs come to us with a particular flavor profile, and we conduct R&D and create a spice blend to meet their needs,” says Matthew McClure, Al Dentes’ general manager. “We can also take any existing blend and adjust it to suit a chef’s liking or convert a blend to purer raw materials. Because of the volume of spices we use, we can also convert raw materials to ones with better price points.”
Recently, the company was in the market for a new blender, but quickly discovered not every machine would do. “We tried a few blenders, but they punctured the cells of the spices, allowing the oil to seep out, resulting in the loss of the blend’s flavor and aroma,” explains McClure.
Al Dentes’ Provisions decided to purchase a Munson Model HD-2-1/2-5-SS horizontal ribbon blender with a 25-cu.-ft. capacity. Because properly mixing each spice blend is critical to Al Dentes’ success, the company wanted equipment that would produce a fully incorporated, homogenous mix.
“We selected the Munson ribbon blender because it provides a nice, almost folding action,” says McClure, “producing a loose and almost fluffy product— exactly what we want in our seasonings.”
The Munson blender is now used for all of Al Dentes’ seasoning blends, with three to eight batches running each day. The ingredients are delivered manually to the blender via totes. Staging and weighing take approximately 30 minutes; the blending time is generally an hour regardless of the batch size, says McClure. Once blended, the mix is discharged into a tote via a manually activated paddle gate.
Al Dentes’ bulk densities run from one extreme to the other, according to McClure. “We have very heavy, granulated elements like salt, sugar and garlic that we typically run in 800-pound batches,” he says. “On the other extreme is an herb blend like our Italian seasoning, which includes a mixture of light, fluffy dried herbs. With this mix, a batch of equivalent volume would weigh only 200 pounds.”
Regardless of the bulk density or type of material, the blender’s split, double helical agitator with its 2:1 length-to-diameter ratio promotes the thorough mixing of all the ingredients during loading, blending and discharge. Powered by a 10hp motor with a shaft-mounted drive, the agitator is flange mounted for easy access and cleanability.
Tight tolerances of 1/16 to 1/32 in. between the ribbon blades and blender trough minimize the amount of residual product in the machine after discharge, which is a big advantage to cleanout.
“To be more efficient, we try to stagger the blends during a given day, so the next blend has all the components of the previous blend,” McClure says. “For example, we make a BBQ blend that contains chili powder. We’ll first run a batch of chili powder through the blender, after which we dry brush out of the machine. Then, we can go straight into the BBQ blend.”
All the surfaces that contact the spice ingredients are constructed of 304 stainless steel, which allows thorough cleaning between batches. The blending trough is a one-piece welded unit, with no need for cross trusses to support the side walls. The internal welds are polished from 150 to 240 grit and have a minimum 1/4-in. radius to eliminate corners, cracks and crevices that could entrap material.
The HD-series blender handles both free-flowing materials and oily or pasty non-free-flowing products. “Heavily powdered blends create some of our biggest mixing challenges,” says McClure. “Highly pulverized powder can become sticky with heat, and if you add an oil, as we do to act as a carrier for flavor, things get tricky.”
To address this issue, Al Dentes’ makes a pre-batch that combines the liquid oil with a granular ingredient. “We then add the granular mix to the powdered ingredients to avoid any clumping,” explains McClure. “We need to make sure our blends are consistent from batch to batch.”