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From Field to Market; How Wet

Milling Works in Corn Processing

In the basic processing of grains like corn and wheat, even rice,
there are two basic milling procedures. The first is Dry Milling.
This type of milling is the process by which grains are separated
anatomically; this is accomplished by physical means. Wet
Milling is also the separation of grains by anatomical seed
structure. The wet milling process goes further by also
separating the seed into starch, protein, fiber, and oil thereby
producing a variety of products suitable for consumption.

In the wet milling of corn, major steps are as follows:

-Inspection and Cleaning
-Germ Separation
-Fine Grinding and Screening
-Starch Separation
-Syrup Conversion

Figure 1. Wet Milling Processes and Products.

Inspection and Cleaning
The first step is necessary is
processing a raw, but mostly
uniform product. When
corn arrives at the mill for
sale is shelled from the cob
so only the kernels can be
sold. Staff members at the
refinery inspect the corn and
price it according to the
percent moisture (desired
15%) and amount of cob,
dust, chaff, and foreign
materials it contains (the less
of these it contains, the
higher the price per bushel).
These extra materials are
sieved out of the corn as best
as possible.
Figure 2: Visually inspecting corn at an elevator.

When the corn is deemed clean enough it is transferred to a
3,000 gallon stainless steel tank where it is soaked for 30 to 40
hours in water. The water temperature is maintained at a stable
50 degrees F. During this period the kernels take in moisture, up
to 45% in most cases. This doubles their kernel size and about
6% of the kernels become soluble in the water. In most systems
the steeping corn is moved through a series of 10 tanks. 1/10 th
of a percent of sulfur dioxide is added
to the slurry at this point. Bacterial
growth and mild acid production is
necessary loosen the gluten bonds of
the corn and efficiently release the
starch from the kernels. By way of
coarse grinding in an attrition mill the
germ is extracted from the other
Figure 3. Steep Tank materials. The water used steeping
Source: procedure is collected and condensed
for use in animal feeds and other

Germ Separation
A liquid cyclone separator or hydroclone is used to further
separate the germ from the starch, gluten, and fiber. By now the
density of the product is low because the germ contains the bulk
of the oil that can be found in corn. It is washed repeatedly to
take out every bit of starch remaining. Finally the oil is
extracted and purified as corn oil while the remaining germ is
used as animal feed as well.

Fine Grinding and Screening

From germ separation the corn and water slurry is transported to
another impact mill that further releases starch and gluten from
the fiber. It is allowed to flow over a progression of concave
screens which filter out the fiber while the starch and the gluten
pass through. The screening process is repeated several times
until satisfactory amounts of fiber are removed. The fiber is an
additional ingredient in animal feeds. Finally the suspension of
starch and gluten compounds are channeled to starch separators.

Figure 4. Components of a kernel that can be separated.


Starch Separation
Arriving at the starch separators the screened starch and gluten
is entered into a centrifuge. Because gluten is much less dense
than starch it easily spins out of the mix and is also added to
animal feed. The remaining starch is washed and rewashed to
remove the last bit of protein that it contains; about 1-2%. The
starch, now almost 100% pure, can be marketed as unmodified
corn starch or can be converted into corn syrup and sugar.

Syrup Conversion
The starch is now dissolved in water and converted to liquid
through the use of various acids and enzymes. The liquid
becomes a low-dextrose solution and is further converted by
additional enzymes. Millers can control the amounts and types
of acids and enzymes used in order to control the sweetness of
the syrup produced. Different types of syrups are used for
different demands and so whatever kind of sugar concentrations
(for example, dextrose and maltose) are desired, that is what the
mill produces.

Figure 5. Dextrose from Corn.


If Dextrose is produced it is often further processed. Since it is
highly fermentable it is introduced to yeast or bacterial and the
sugar is converted to alcohol. The remaining nutrients are once
again collected for animal feed.
Figure 6. Various stages of fermentation in a lab.

Finished Product
As you can see, many products can be fashioned from a
commodity that we are able to produce in abundance. The key
manufactured goods that are squeezed out of a single kernel of
corn in the wet milling process include:
-Animal Feed
-Corn Oil
-Corn Syrup and Various Sugars

These can and are further processed into more recognizable

products for human consumption.

Hoseney, Carl R. 1994. “Wet Milling: Production of Starch,
Oil, and Protein”. Principles of Cereal Science and
Technology. Pgs 147-150.

“The Process (Step-by-Step)”. 1999. Corn Refiners Association.