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Celebrating Food from Purdue Alumni - Orville Redenbacher

Food innovations instigate progress, from farming to product packaging

It's difficult to picture what grocery stores, restaurant menus and dinner plates would look like without innovations from Boilermakers. Industries have stemmed from the inventions and improvements established by these leaders taking giant leaps in food science.

"It's chemistry, it's microbiology, it's engineering, it's packaging. All this goes into making a food product," says Amanda Deering, associate professor of produce food safety in the College of Agriculture, during an episode of 'This is Purdue'. "And so we are an interdisciplinary program. We have to be."

Deering shared Purdue's ongoing advancements in food safety, security and sustainability in the conversation with Haley Oliver, the assistant dean of Ag Online Programs, 150th Anniversary Professor of Food Science and director of the U.S. Agency for International Development's Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety. Alongside their colleagues and current students, they're working with researchers around the world to continue the university's legacy as a front-runner in food innovation.

Orville Redenbacher and Popcorn Seeds

Boilermakers have led the way in all kinds of food industries, including forming a prolific Purdue popcorn legacy. Among the scientists who have specialized in originating hybrid seed varieties is Orville Redenbacher, whose products and media influence established his reputation as a household name.

Redenbacher was active across campus in West Lafayette while earning a bachelor's degree in agronomy; joining the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity; playing in the "All-American" Marching Band; and editing the Debris, the Agriculturist and the Purdue Exponent publications. After graduating in 1928, he worked as an agricultural agent and organizer, eventually forming the company Chester Hybrids alongside fellow Purdue alum Charles Bowman.

table setting with bowl of popcorn and fall decorations
From Orville Redenbacher's famous products to Ag Alumni Seed's acclaimed operations, Purdue
is permanently connected to the popcorn industry. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca Robinos)

Chester Hybrids became a top producer of popcorn seeds and supplies, aiming to engineer a lightweight, fluffy corn that would pop consistently. For years they planted, tested and cross-pollinated seeds until they found the winning product and began selling gourmet popping corn in 1970. The superior seeds, in combination with Redenbacher's resonating persona, led to instant success.

Sixty years after graduating, Redenbacher received an honorary doctorate in agriculture. Throughout his career, he remained a dedicated alum, attending football games annually and starting a scholarship for nontraditional students. He is part of a host of involved instigators who have made progress in hybrid popcorn methodologies at Purdue, including researchers at a leading supplier of popcorn seeds.

countertop with bowl and box of Orville Redenbacher popcorn
Orville Redenbacher's products and media influence established his reputation as a household
name since his popcorn's introduction in 1970. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca Robinos)

Whether it's at a theater, out of the microwave, or pre-popped in a bag and ready to eat, popcorn products across the U.S. have ties to Purdue. In 1938, Purdue alumni started Ag Alumni Seed, an affiliated commercial seed breeder and distributor. The company expands the research of popcorn geneticist Bruce Ashman and strives to perfect their products, from the plant's yield rate and disease resistance to the popped corn's expansion ratio and aroma.

Learn more about the other foods developed by Purdue alumni:

Boilermakers have changed the way the world eats

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