Students “Science It Up” at the CIA with Final Projects
On first glance, it looked like any other science fair. There were poster boards with colorful numbers and graphs, visual aids and props supporting the results, and dozens of people milling about checking out the entries.
But upon closer inspection, this wasn’t just science…it was culinary science. And the “scientists” were CIA bachelor’s students making their senior thesis presentations, the final project in their culinary science degree program curriculum.
- Know how roasting whole wheat flour will affect its flavor? Ask Brianna Benson.
- Learn the effects of different animal-sourced fats—from cow, goat, and sheep milk—on baking? Regan Milmore can explain.
- Discover the sensory implications of heat treatment on fondant and fondant-based glazes? Chase Obenchain will tell you.
They and 14 of their culinary science classmates gathered at The Egg on the CIA’s New York campus, showing off their poster presentations and eager to share their results with curious onlookers.
“It’s the culmination of a semester’s worth of research, using scientific methods every step of the way,” says Lecturing Instructor in Culinary Science Marisa Monaghan. “The students explain their materials and methods—how they’re running it, what they’re using—and present their lab results. It’s very exciting for them.”
A highlight of the experience was the opportunity to talk with visiting science professors from other colleges, who provided valuable insights and critiques of the projects. In addition to chatting with CIA culinary science faculty, students got to network with Dr. Christopher Smart and Dr. Miriam Rossi, chemistry professors from Vassar College; and Dr. Jeff Cavialieri, chemistry professor, and Jenni Oyler, chemistry lab tech, from Dutchess Community College.
Discoveries and Connections
So what did our budding culinary scientists discover along the way?
In analyzing fondant crystals using a glossmeter, Chase learned that the size of the crystal didn’t make a difference, but heat was the bigger factor in the shininess of fondant and glaze, with 37 degrees Celsius producing the most shine.
Regan used a shortbread cookie dough recipe to compare cow, goat, and sheep butter. There were slight differences in texture, flavor, and even color—sheep butter gets whiter, so it’s better to use in frosting for cake decorating. More significant to healthy diets, she discovered it takes much longer to digest cow’s butter—two hours—than goat and sheep butter, which digest in about 30 minutes. That’s 75% reduced digestive time for goat and sheep butter!
And Brianna wanted to take a food that’s good for your body—whole wheat flour—and find a way to enhance its flavor. After extensive testing, she determined that roasting the flour does indeed make it more flavorful, and produces whole wheat waffles that are as scrumptious as they are healthful.
That’s not all Brianna Benson discovered. She already has a research and development job waiting for her after graduation—at EFCO, a global leader in ingredients for bakeries and other major food operations. Many of her classmates had also interviewed with leading companies such as Kraft and Campbell well before completing their degrees.
With their in-depth knowledge and experience in both the kitchen and the lab, these CIA culinary scientists are in demand, and ready to go out and “science it up” in the food world!