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Nuts About Chocolate wins student ice cream contest

Can't decide between coffee, candy, ice cream or cake? Thanks to aspiring food scientists at Cornell, you can have it all, and in a cone.

Coffee Toffee Cheesecake was one of four novel ice cream flavors concocted by students as a final project in the popular Science and Technology of Foods course (FDSC 1101).

But the winner of a Nov. 30 tasting competition was Nuts About Chocolate, a hazelnut-infused chocolate base with added fudge swirls and nut pieces. Others contenders were Pumpkin SpIce Cream and the nondairy Tropical Apple Cider Coco(not!) frozen dessert.

The 65 students in the introductory course not only dreamed up their new ice creams but also worked in the pilot plant at Stocking Hall, where they quickly learned that ice cream making is as much about math as it is about the mouth. If 80 percent overrun is 40 percent air and 60 percent mix, then how much mix is needed to create five gallons of ice cream? And if hazelnuts cost $7.95 per pound, how much can you add and still keep the price of the final product palatable to consumers?

As part of the competition, which involved weeks of group work, the students not only developed flavors but also marketing plans. The makers of Pumpkin SpIce Cream said they wanted to create a seasonal flavor, and added gingerbread crumbles to extend its appeal from October to January. They also planned to tout the ice cream's health benefits, as it was made with 14 percent pumpkin puree and included cinnamon and nutmeg, which, studies suggest, may help keep blood sugar levels in line.

The Tropical Apple Cider team believed their product would tap the growing market for organic, vegan and nondairy food and appeal to people with dietary concerns, as it was kosher and soy- and gluten-free.

"The Nuts About Chocolate is really tasty, something that I would buy as a treat," said Kathryn Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and one of three judges. "The Coffee Toffee Cheesecake has an explosion of flavor. The Pumpkin SpIce Cream tastes like Thanksgiving. The Tropical Apple Cider, I think that's something very special. They're all very good."

Judge Steve Miller, Cornell Dining executive chef, asked probing questions about composition, fat content and costs. But even he was impressed by the creativity and results.

"The team that came up with Tropical Apple Cider, they thought way out of the box. Their idea was the most sellable, but it was also the most costly," Miller said. "If it's all about the product, Nuts About Chocolate wins, hands down. It could go to the market tomorrow and would really appeal to our students. I think they should all be very proud of what they have done."

Rebecca Phillips '14 said she had no idea how ice cream was created, and really enjoyed the process. "I love tasting it and learning how it's made from scratch," she said.

The food science major said the rest of the semester was equally engaging, as each lecture involved a guest speaker who highlighted a different side of the industry.

"Every week I come to class excited to learn. Last week we had a whole lecture about cereal, and we didn't run out of things to talk about," Phillips added.

Stacey Shackford is a staff writer at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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