· 5 min read
Food scientists get creative in buggy culinary clash
Creative bakers jumped at the challenge to put a buggy new spin into their confections during the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s annual Battle of the Food Scientists, held Feb. 15 at the Food Innovation Center.
The culinary clash was won by a traditional Indian carrot porridge with the unique addition of the two required “mystery” ingredients — cricket powder and Swiss Miss Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cinnamilk. The final product wowed the judges with its creativity and flavors.
“We made it a fusion kind of food — with the cinnamilk flavor — it’s Indian and American,” said Prabhashis Bose, a member of the winning team and a graduate student in the Department of Food Science and Technology.
The winning team also included graduate students Sedoten Ogun and Sayantini Paul, and post-doctoral researcher Urvinder Kaur Sardarni.
Ava Petersen, competition judge and quality manager with Ardent Mills, said the different dishes all had great taste, but the carrot porridge was something completely different.
“What definitely set it apart from the other dishes was that it was so unique — I’d never had anything like that before, and it tasted great,” Petersen said. “I applaud the creativity and how the flavors worked well together. There was a nice sweetness overall in your dish brought through the carrots and the milk, and I was hard pressed to taste any of the cricket powder you incorporated.”
The kitchen stations inside the Food Instructional Lab were buzzing with quick movement, the sounds of mixers and blenders, the smells of freshly-baked goods and wafts of cinnamon. The battle pitted four teams, mostly graduate and undergraduate students, in two timed challenges. The first was to create a high-protein cookie in 40 minutes, followed by baking a recipe of their choosing in under 50 minutes, with the incorporation of the two mystery ingredients.
A variety of ingredients were supplied. The winning team planned ahead for their dish and brought along shredded carrots, thinking the recipe might work with just about any mystery ingredient the challenge presented to them.
The final creations, plated and presented to the judges in a 60-second pitch, were the Great Indian Carrot Porridge, Crick Crick Brownie, Hoppin’ Good Whoopie Pie, and Deconstructed Cherry Pie. All earned rave reviews from the judging panel.
Madilyn Jaskae, a senior food science and technology major, said the competition was an opportunity to venture down a new culinary path.
“I wasn’t totally sure what I was getting myself into — I definitely thought it would be fun, but I was stressed the whole time,” Jaskae said. “It felt good, though, to feel that stress and to challenge ourselves under those conditions. We’re really happy with the product we ended up with, the whoopie pie. It wasn’t perfect, but it tasted really good and we had to modify some things because the cricket powder really absorbed a lot of moisture.”
Jaskae said she wasn’t completely surprised by the mystery ingredients, even the cricket powder.
“I knew it would be something totally crazy and random, and it was easier to use because it’s similar to flour, as was the Swiss Miss, so incorporating it wasn’t too scary,” she said. “We just had to go back and forth adding water to it. If we’d had more time, I probably would have incorporated a little more butter.”
The Battle of the Food Scientists is organized by a planning committee, mostly comprised of students. Emily Harley, a second-year master’s student, served on the committee after competing last year.
“Our overall goal is to challenge the scientists, to keep it fresh, since some compete more than once,” Harley said. “The time is the most stressful part of it, I think. You have to delegate and work as a team to bring everything together, and each team has to have the calculations of ingredients ready for the judges. That’s a lot to do in a short period of time. You’re thinking on your feet.”
The runner-up was the Crick Crick Brownie, created by graduate students David Fabian Gomez Quintero, Armando Lerma Fuentes, Carmen Perez-Donado and Kevin Lievano.
Terry Howell, also a judge of the competition and director of the Food Processing Center, said the experience was positive for all involved.
“All four teams were unbelievable,” he said. “It was a really fun night. It was great to see all the enthusiasm for our profession, and the future is bright.”
The competition was sponsored by ConAgra Brands, Smithfield Foods, Universal Pure, Hormel Foods, Tecumseh Poultry, Balchem, Ardent Mills and All Things Bugs.