Published on 08/05/10

UGA students win national food prize

By April Reese Sorrow

An edible class project earned six University of Georgia students national recognition and a little dough.

Sweet Potato Puff with Probiotics was created by six UGA students as part of a food science course on new food product development taught by Yao-wen Huang, a professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“This award is just one of our success stories in this course as well as our food science program,” Huang said. “I believe participation in outside competitions help our students learn how industry judges look at our products.”

The students won third place and a $2,000 cash prize at the Danisco Knowledge Award Competition. The winning food product team included UGA students Jaideep Singh Sidhu, Jaime Joseph, Jessica Highsmith, Tripp Jernigan, Jake Smith and Madison Smith.

More than 20 products from universities across North America competed in the annual contest.

This is the first time UGA food science students have placed in the Danisco competition, but it was not their first successful contest. Food products developed in the course have won first place three times in competitions sponsored by the Product Development Management Association - Georgia Chapter.

Creating new foods

The new food product development course is a graduation requirement for all undergraduate food science students, and it’s much more than just creating a new recipe. Students use their knowledge from previous courses like food chemistry, food processing and engineering, food microbiology, nutritional quality and food safety and statistics to create their food product.

As teams, the students study real-world situations and take on roles in product development, engineering, quality assurance, marketing and nutrition.

“The team is empowered,” Huang said. “So, they have hands-on exercises to learn how to develop a new food product from the ideation through screening, development, upscale, marketing and final tangible product.”

Healthy competition

The student-created products are then entered in the Danisco Knowledge Award Competition.

“We made (the sweet potato puff) because we wanted a product that would be healthy and functional and appeal to a large variety of people,” said Joseph. “We fortified this product with all kinds of good stuff, like fiber and antioxidants. All of these components combined led to a product that was fun, delicious and healthy.”

Foods entered in the competition aren’t required to be healthy per se, but the student team set a goal of creating a nutritious snack.

“Taking into consideration the large amount of snack foods enjoyed by consumers and their ill health effects, we wanted to make a tasty snack food with a very minuscule amount of fat,” Sidhu said. “Our product is sweet potato based, which is naturally rich in fiber and good for gut health.”

The team tested other products, including a mole-flavored puff, before deciding on their winner. Mole is a type of sauce used in Mexican cuisine.

Continuing in food

Two of the award-winning students already have plans for their future in the food business. Joseph would like to own a restaurant focusing on local food and seasonal produce. Sidhu hopes to work in research and development, formulating new foods and exploring new food processing techniques.

“I am really glad that I took Huang's course,” Sidhu said. “It helped me understand the finer nuances of the new product development process.”

April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.