These Cincinnati State graduates may soon develop the next food craze
Have you ever wondered who perfects new recipes for things like protein drinks, salad dressing, plant-based meatballs, candy and ice cream? And how they did it?
It starts with kitchen know-how and a background in science. Cincinnati State Technical and Community College has a new Bachelor of Applied Science in Culinary and Food Science and four of the 10 recent graduates talked to WVXU about what they learned and the food they're developing now for local companies like Perfetti Van Melle, Sugar Creek, and Archer Daniels Midland.
Nicole Hatfield now works in West Chester for Sugar Creek in a test kitchen. She thinks back to what she learned at Cincinnati State.
"You hit the ground running from Day One. So, you immediately make that jump from the kitchen to a lab setting and we are immediately making new products like gravies, salad dressings and ice creams," she says.
New food science degree at Cincinnati State
The Culinary and Food Science Lab at Cincinnati State is quiet now because classes in the new Bachelor of Applied Science program don't resume again until the fall. Program Chair Grace Yek shows off the stoves, the sinks and the counters. This is what you would see in a normal commercial kitchen.
Yek points to the other side of the room with beakers, flasks, a high precision scale, a magnetic stirrer, and immersion blender. "Then we have this side of the room where we get a little bit more science-y," she says.
Science-y, because this degree is for future food developers, flavor specialists and more. Students can put their cooking, math, science and engineering skills to use.
It didn't take long for graduate Alicia Manley to get a job in product development at Archer Daniels Midland in Erlanger, Ky. She is working with plant-based foods. "They give me a formula and I put them together. Maybe meatballs, maybe hamburgers, maybe nuggets. And recently I've been doing work with nutrition drinks."
What’s in my food?
Manley and others also learned about technical ingredients while at Cincinnati State. That's all the stuff on the back of the label.
Flour salt is on the shelf. It's used in seasoning blends. Nearby are buffers to lower the pH. In product development it's all about formulation and the ability to repeat the recipe exactly no matter who is making it. A lower pH in food helps prevent it from going bad but it can cause a sour taste. That's where sodium acid sulfate comes in, another ingredient on this shelf.
Ingredients can be complicated to the average consumer. Yek says people are much more discerning now, talking about ultra-processed foods and food safety. She believes the industry needs to do a better job teaching consumers about what's in their food.
"When you hear the word 'chemicals,' that tends to alarm a lot of people, right? We need to educate our consuming public that chemicals can mean a whole lot of things," Yek says. "Salt is sodium chloride, table sugar is sucrose, vinegar is acetic acid and there are all kinds of different acids."
Also on the shelf at Cincinnati State are dozens of flavors. Yek says with this degree you could become a flavor specialist.
Mayra Tafoya is research and development coordinator for candy company Perfetti Van Melle. Tafoya helps develop new flavors and new candy.
"I've always had a soft spot for confectionaries," she says. "That's something I've always wanted to do."
Graduate Matt Schmidt is working as a culinary intern for Sugar Creek. For his Cincinnati State capstone project, he developed a Cincinnati-style chili cheese sausage.
"FC is killing it. The Bengals are killing it. Now the Reds are killing it. So I thought, what if we had a product that represented Cincinnati?" he says. "Its probably most famous food is Cincinnati-style Skyline or Gold Star chili. So, I reversed-engineered Skyline's recipe and made it from there."
He says in order to develop the recipe he had to eat "so much Skyline" every day.
Look for more new foods
Experts say food companies are now getting back to pre-COVID levels in developing new products. They had to pause because of supply chain issues.
What's resonating with food developers this summer? Cozymeal Magazine reports the trends include island flavors, spicy bakes, new colors and flavors of chocolate, and plant-based chicken.