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Café Crunch is whey cool: chocolate-coated snack stick from Cornell wins $5,000 top prize in national dairy contest

No whey! Whey?

Cornell food science students have developed a mocha-flavored, chocolate- coated snack that uses an unusual ingredient: whey. The students call their concoction Café Crunch, and the product has won the $5,000 top prize at the Dairy Management Inc.'s annual Discoveries in Dairy Ingredients contest.

"When we tasted it for the first time -- while we were developing it -- the team was really excited," said Sajid Alavi, a Cornell graduate student in food science and a co-captain of the development team.

The secret to the students' success lies under the chocolate coating. Whey, the watery part of milk, is considered waste in the cheese-making process. The Cornell students turned the whey into a crunchy delight by putting it through a process called supercritical fluid extrusion (SCFX), which was invented and patented by Cornell food science professors Syed Rizvi and Steven Mulvaney. SCFX provides consumers with puffier dry-cereal puffs, faster-cooking pasta and cereal that can stay crisp longer in milk.

For decades, manufacturers have been using extrusion, in which food, like the durum wheat that becomes pasta, is passed through a die and turned into different shapes. In another process, foods such as cheese puffs and rice cereal are expanded with steam.

With SCFX, scientists get improved control during processing. This is because the puffing is caused by a so-called supercritical fluid, which is part liquid and part gas, such as carbon dioxide. This fluid gives food processors more ability to change the composition of snack food, pasta and bread. In Café Crunch, the extruded whey develops millions of porous, honeycomb-like cells. In their written report to the contest, the students said that Café Crunch's unique internal texture, created by whey-rich extruded sticks, fills a special candy niche traditionally dominated by plain milk chocolate-coated snack bars with heavy and chewy texture. Café Crunch also offers nutritional protein not found in chocolate-coated cookies or pretzels. Besides Alavi, the Café Crunch international team members, mostly graduate students, are Tareq Al-Ati (Kuwait); Jimmy K.H. Chen, co-captain, (Taiwan); Belgin and Esref Dogan (Turkey); Rohit Jalali, Mukul Juneja and Sathya Kalambur (India); and Noriko Misawa (Japan).

Contest entries were judged on originality, marketability, production feasibility, written reports and taste-tests of the finished products. Last year, Cornell's Tropical Jewels, a premium frozen yogurt snack, won the dairy institute's Best Overall Product and Most Marketable Product awards.

"The whole experience is pretty good," says Alavi. "We enjoyed making the product. The whole experience itself was beneficial in terms of working as a team."

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