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Fall 2009 - Team savors

Destination Purdue > Fall 2009 - Team savors

Team savors the sweet taste of success

By Amanda Lucas

Students flattening dough

Photo by Amanda Lucas

Kristin Burkenpas (left), a senior food science major from Somerset, Ky., and Lusiana Ng, a senior food industry marketing and management major from Indonesia, flatten dough for their sweet potato chips.

An advanced course gives Purdue Food Science students an opportunity to become entrepreneurs and create new food products from start to finish.

Green tea popcorn, chip and dip bars and color-me cookies are just some of the products previous groups created after researching current trends. The food science students also work with agricultural economics students to develop in-depth marketing plans that include distribution plans, cost analyses and market studies. Last semester, one group hoped to savor success with their baked sweet potato chips.

"Putting forth four years' worth education and working with my peers is the best part of this course," said Aaron Pleitner, a senior food science major from Munster, Ind.

Besides creating the products, teams must prepare and present a report to a team of guest judges from the food industry. The sweet potato chips were the most innovative project — other groups simply enhanced or modified existing products, said Kristen Burkenpas, a senior food science major from Somerset, Ky.

That innovation meant the sweet potato chip team members took on a greater challenge. They spent nearly half the semester working to get the right taste, color and crunch for their chips. The hardest part was actually acquiring the ingredients from companies, said Pleitner.

Jaehan Joo's experience in trying to contact ingredient suppliers left a bad taste in his mouth. "Some companies didn't even return my emails or want to give information," the senior food science major from South Korea said.

Innovation leads to $25K prize
By Amanda Lucas

In March, one winning team of the Student Soybean and Corn Competitions really wiped up their rivals. The team created biodegradable, corn-based toilet paper called Nature's Silk. The challenge for competitors this year was to create new, environmentally friendly products out of corn or soybeans. The winning soybean team created melt-away cupcake liners and biodegradable cork.

The Indiana Corn Marketing Council and Indiana Soybean Alliance host the competition every year. Past winning products include soy crayons, soy-based skeet, and soy waffle bowls for ice cream.

The first place team receives $25,000 prize and a chance to get its product made. Companies may even buy a team's idea, and students may earn royalties from their products. Purdue pays for all of the patent costs.

Look out, you may find Nature's Silk toilet paper and Melt-Away cupcake liners soon in a store near you.

Find out more:

Purdue GOinAG
Purdue Food Science
Purdue Agricultural Economics

Through all the hard work, the experience brought the teammates closer together - although that sometimes got messy. "While drum drying the sweet potatoes, we all ended up covered head-to-toe in orange powder," said Burkenpas. That was a fun moment, but problem solving tested their good humor.

"We've had trouble making dough that isn't really sticky and we've been playing around with the color of the chips," said Burkenpas. "If we get it to work, it'll be really awesome."

It took a while for team members to figure out how to "sheet," or thin, the dough. They tried different kinds of flour, different amounts of ingredients and different chip sizes to find the perfect flavor and crunch. Much of the work was by trial and error. But they had to create a formula and figure out how to produce it on a large scale, just as they would have to do after graduation.

"We're sick of making the chips, but we save the good ones for testing so we haven't actually eaten that many," said Burkenpas. However, the group's taste for the real-world experience is still mouth-watering.

"It's fun to finally see the concept we started with at the beginning of the semester come together," said Burkenpas. "We managed to come up with an idea and actually produce an edible, tasty, healthy new food."