Cover Image
close this bookFood Chain No. 08 - March 1993 (ITDG, 1993, 16 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentGreetings
View the documentGuatemala's health snacks for children
View the documentMaking the most of Nigerian ogi
View the documentNews Lines
View the documentFighting disease with fortified foods
View the documentThe Best Lemonade in the World
View the documentBook Lines
View the documentTargeting the vulnerable Malawi
View the documentHow to make jak fruit biscuits
View the documentAcknowledgments

Guatemala's health snacks for children

More than one million Guatemalan schoolchildren receive a nutritional biscuit each day as part of the government's national snack programme. Dr. Mario Molina outlines the production and origins of this fortified food product.

In Central America, as in many other parts of the world, there is considerable protein-calorie malnutrition as well as deficiencies in what are known as micro-nutrients, particularly iron and vitamin A.

These problems are more evident in rural areas and a high correlation exists between poverty and degree of malnutrition. It is widely accepted by workers in this field that the more pressing and difficult problems to solve are those related to calorie deficiency. If the diet has insufficient calories, valuable protein will be burned to provide energy rather than used for body tissue building. This has particularly serious implications for susceptible groups such as children.

Agriculturally it has been found that nutritionally desirable crops such as soya can be grown in many rural communities in Central America. However these crops do not form part of the traditional local diet of poor people and so their cultivation is not a common practice. The Institute of Nutrition for Central America and Panama (INCAP) decided to develop an appropriate village level technology that would use nutritionally desirable crops, such as soya and velvet beans, to make a safe, nutritional, high calorie food that could be fed to children over six months old


It is well known that the proteins of cereals and legumes complement each other so that the nutritional value of the mixture is greater than either ingredient. Indeed many traditional diets such as rice and lentils, or maize and beans are based on this principle.

It was decided to explore the possibility of developing a cookie based on a cereal and legume mixture. The fact that the Central American rural population consumes a cookie-like maize bread called tortilla, was felt would improve the likelihood of the new product's acceptability. In addition most villages have the technology already in place for making tortillas which could be used in the production process: wet-mills for grinding maize and wood heated ovens for baking.

After several trials, the process summarised in Figure 1 was adopted. The process worked well using either common maize, opaque-2 maize or sweet sorghum as the cereal, and either soya beans, velvet beans, chick peas, or cowpeas as the legumes. The use of soya beans was preferred, used at a ratio of 7kg whole maize to 3kg of soya bean. All raw material should be free from infestation and rancidity


The process used to prepare the whole soya bean and maize dough is based on that widely used in rural areas of Central America to prepare the maize dough for tortilla manufacture A small amount of lime (0.1 per cent Ca(OH)2) is added to help the peeling operation. The cooking time was established to assure an easy peeling of the soya beans as well as the necessary gelatinization of the maize starch to provide a good dough for baking.

The maize-soya bean dough, which contains about 50 per cent water, is obtained by wet milling the cooked, whole, peeled grains in the common disc mills which are to be found in almost every village where tortillas are eaten. This dough can be used to prepare a highly nutritious maize-soya bean gruel (notate), which can be fed to babies, or for the production of nutritionally improved cookies.

When making cookies, the dough is mixed with about halfits weight of soft wheat flour to give a final mixture containing some 15 per cent of soya beans. After mixing in the wheat flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder, the flavouring is added. Finally the hydrogenated vegetable oil is incorporated as a last ingredient All mixing in the rural bakeries is done by hand.

After the dough is ready, it is spread on the mouldillg tables, which are constructed locally. These are designed rem deep so that after the dough is evenly spread by hand with the wooden roll an even 1 cm dough sheet is obtained. The dough can be then be cut on the moulding rabies eidler using circular or square metal cutters. These cutters are also made locally; the recommended sizes being 6.1cm if round and 5.4cm if square. With these dimensions the final cookie weight of 25g (approx 1 on) is assured.

The moulded cookies are then placed on greased metal trays and baked in a wood -fired oven at approximately 175°C (350°F) for about 10 minutes to obtain the final creamy coloured cookies. The bakers ensure that the cookie is the correct colour by comparing the product with a photo provided by INCAP. The colour is considered important to limit browning and therefore prevent loss of the essential amino acid lysine, in the final product.

The chemical/nutritional characteristics of the cookie product are shown in Table 1, and reveal an improvement in protein content and quality as well as calorific density. The cost of each cookie is two US cents.

The nutritionally improved cookie has now been accepted as part of the Guatemalan Government's school snack programme and approximately 1.3m Guatemalan school children receive one cookie per day. Several contracts and sub-contracts have been given to rural bakeries both to assure national coverage as well as lowering distribution costs. The technology required by the process means that this product can be manufactured locally in remote areas. The governments of other Central American countries are showing considerable interest in introducing; the cookie into their OW11 school feeding programmes.

INCAI, is now examining the possibility of fortifying the cookie with vitamins and minerals.

Typical Chemical and Nutritional Characteristics of the cookie


Average Content (per cent)



Protein (N x 6.25)






Crude fibre


Nitrogen free extract


Total calories