PSU students win almond innovations contest
Food science students from Pennsylvania State University won first prize in the 5th Annual Almond Innovations Contest for their Cran-Almond Treasures, an indulgent, nutritious snack that highlights the beneficial qualities of almonds.

The contest, sponsored by the Almond Board of California, provided an opportunity for students studying food science, culinary arts, and related subjects to gain hands-on experience in product development. In keeping with current health food trends, this year’s contest theme, "200 Calorie Small Indulgences," challenged the participants to create original, nutritious, and indulgent almond products containing 200 or fewer calories per serving.

Alicia Holt, the team’s representative and IFT Student Member, said that her team formulated the product with health-conscious consumers in mind.

The team developed an almond-flour–based cookie that contained small pieces of almonds and dried cranberries and was dipped in dark chocolate. Each cookie provides 105 calories and contains no trans fatty acids or cholesterol.

"The winning formulation is a great example for product developers and foodservice operators of how almonds can work in multiple ways to add nutrition, texture, and flavor to snack foods," said Harbinder Maan, Manager of Food Service and Industrial Marketing, Almond Board of California. "Cran-Almond Treasures taste and feel luxurious, and they naturally contain antioxidants, vitamin E, calcium, fiber, magnesium, and potassium, a rarity for most indulgent food items."

All entries were required to include at least one nutrition statement in accordance with current Food and Drug Administration guidelines. The entries were judged on a 100-point scale, with 25% awarded for the use of almonds, 20% for marketability, 20% for originality, 20% for feasibility, and 15% for nutrition.

The winning team received $5,000 in cash and will showcase their product at the Almond Board of California booth during the IFT Annual Meeting & Food ExpoSM, July 29–Aug. 1. For information about the contest, visit

Apio to improve technology
The U.S. Army Soldiers System Center, Natick, Mass., recently awarded a $548,000 contract to the Apio Inc. food subsidiary of Landec Corp., Menlo Park, Calif., to develop commercial uses for Landec’s BreatheWay® packaging technology.

After conducting trials with the technology for two years, the Center has decided to begin an 18-mo commercialization program to further develop the technology for use in distributing fresh fruits and vegetables to selective military deployments worldwide. Once the technology is commercialized, Apio will be the exclusive provider of it to all U.S. military fresh produce vendors.

The objective of the program is to improve the quality and nutrition of food served in the military. According to the Center, the initial trials using the BreatheWay packaging technology resulted in improved quality and a 25–30% increase in shelf life across a range of targeted fresh fruits and vegetables.

Nick Topkins, President and CEO of Apio, said that the technology can be used in many different types of packages to regulate the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide within a package or container. This extends the shelf life of the produce by maintaining optimum atmospheres for fruits and vegetables. What he calls the "temperature switch feature" of Apio’s proprietary polymers "adjusts the permeability of the package for the appropriate level of oxygen and carbon dioxide when temperatures change during the cold chain distribution process, including shipping and storage."

Saponin extraction improved
A new method for extracting saponins—natural compounds found in soybeans and a wide variety of plants—could lead to discoveries about their health-promoting potential in both whole soybeans and processed soy foods.

Mark Berhow, a chemist with the U.S. Dept of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service, Peoria, Ill., collaborated with other ARS colleagues and scientists at the University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Tex., to improve the extraction of saponins and isoflavones from whole soybeans and processed foods like soy flour. One problem that other researchers studying saponins have experienced, he said, has been the difficulty of purifying sufficient amounts of saponins for analysis.

Berhow and his team members addressed this problem by grinding dried beans, defatting them, and using solvents to extract the saponins. Then they used high-pressure liquid chromatography to identify individual saponins based on their molecular weight.

The researchers developed this method to ascertain the anticancer potential of group A and B saponins, isoflavones, and other phytochemicals in soy.

Enzyme receives GRAS status
DSM Food Specialties, Delft, the Netherlands, recently received GRAS notification from FDA for its PreventASe™, an enzyme that is said to reduce acrylamide in baked foods by as much as 90%.

The ingredient is a preparation from the Aspergillus niger bacteria. To address the concerns about the safety of the ingredient, the company filed information about the enzyme component and the manufacturing process for the A. niger asparaginase enzyme preparation. According to the company, A. niger has been used safely in the production of a variety of enzymes, including an enzyme that has received GRAS status.

Patent issued for taste technology
Senomyx Inc., San Diego, Calif., received a U.S. patent for its methods for the identification of sweet taste modulators. U.S. patent 7,223,551, "T1R3 Receptor Binding Assays for Identification of Taste Modulatory Compounds," covers binding assays using the human T1R3 taste receptor to screen for compounds that elicit or modulate sweet taste.

Dairy by-products produce films
A method developed by scientists at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service uses by-products from dairy processing and biofuel production to form biodegradable, edible protective films for food products.

The researchers combined the milk protein casein with water and glycerol, a by-product of biofuel production, to produce the transparent, water-resistant film.

To isolate dairy proteins from milk, the researchers used carbon dioxide instead of chemicals or acids, which, according to Peggy M. Tomasula, the leader of the research, can be difficult to dispose of. CO2, a by-product of the glucose fermentation used to make ethanol, gives the film its water-resistant and biodegradable qualities.

During the production process, the CO2 dissolves into the milk, decreasing its pH level and causing casein to form particles of a substance known as CO2-casein. The researchers learned that by decreasing the size of the CO2-casein particles they improved the film’s ability to block moisture and increased its glossiness. They also discovered that coating a low-density-polyethylene film with the CO2-casein increased the film’s ability to block oxygen permeation. This means that the film could have a competitive advantage over existing, less-environmentally friendly products.

Hain acquires tofu business
Hain Celestial Group Inc., Melville, N.Y., acquired the tofu and meat-alternative business of WhiteWave Foods Co., a subsidiary of Dean Foods Co., Dallas, Tex. These products are sold under the brand names TofuTown® and WhiteWave® and are currently manufactured in Boulder, Colo.

The transaction did not include the WhiteWave trademark. Hain will continue to market existing products under the WhiteWave brand for a transitional period under license.

Fermentation key to chocolate taste
Looking to gain a better understanding of the fermentation of cocoa beans, Barry Callebaut, Zurich, Switzerland, and the University of Brussels have teamed up to conduct research on enhancing the flavor of chocolate.

Cocoa beans develop their flavor during the fermentation process. They undergo several biochemical changes that determine their aroma and ultimately the taste of the resultant chocolate.

The research, conducted by the university’s Research Group of Industrial Microbiology and Food Biotechnology on behalf of the company, involved the analysis of cocoa bean fermentation at the cocoa plantations. The researchers discovered that specific characteristics of lactic acid bacteria and acetic acid bacteria help ensure good fermentation. What helps to develop the flavor associated with chocolate is the ability of these microorganisms to break down citric acid and sugars and to oxidize ethanol, respectively, resist acidic environments, and tolerate alcohol and heat. The organisms responsible for this are Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus fermentum, Acetobacter pasteurianus, and newly discovered bacteria such as the lactic acid bacterium Weissella ghanensis and the acetic acid bacterium Acetobacter ghanensis

by Karen Nachay,
Assistant Editor
[email protected]