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Students create crispy veggie cubes, raw cookie dough treats for contests

Mark Nisbet and Dongjun Zhao
Ph.D. students Mark Nisbet and Dongjun Zhao make a presentation about their winning product, Vege3, which they hope to commercialize.

A raw chocolate-covered, fruit-filled cookie dough treat that's safe to eat; hummus with added nutrients and flavor from sweet potatoes and butternut squash; and freeze-dried vegetables you can eat like potato chips -- all of these creations were developed by Cornell food science students, in their spare time.

More than 60 Cornell students, in nine teams, participated in national food development competitions this year.

Two other Cornell student teams are finalists for competitions at the IFT's annual meeting, scheduled for June 25-28 in Las Vegas.One team, led by Chong-Hyun "John" Kim '12, Nick Apollo '13 and Alex Lo '12, already snagged first place in the national Heart-Healthy Product Development Competition, hosted in Illinois in April by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). Their product, Hummus+, boasts more potassium, fiber and vitamin A than traditional hummus, with less sodium and saturated fat.

Mark Nisbet
Vege3, a nutritious, freeze-dried, crunchy vegetable snack that won second place in a national product development competition last year, may be headed for supermarket shelves.

One is led by Claire Aucella '12 and David Cullinan '12, who developed chocolate/fruit cookie dough, called Dough TEMPtations.

Another is led by Claudia Pazlopez '12 and Evonne Lau '12, whose product Vegginators is a finalist in the Disney-sponsored IFT competition, which challenges students to create nutritious snacks and beverages for children with a Disney theme. Vegginators is connected to the Disney show "Phineas and Ferb," though other product details are kept under wraps until after the competition.

Pazlopez and Lau said their team met weekly to cook, eat and work on their product proposal, and that they were "inspired by our own favorite childhood snack time memories."

"I am amazed at the creativity, professionalism, teamwork and technical skill that our students demonstrate when they develop a new product and write proposals to be judged by experts in the field," said Dennis Miller, chair of the Department of Food Science. "The fact that so many of our teams make it into the finals year after year is clear evidence that Cornell food science students are among the best in the country."

"Other teams may not have qualified to progress to the finals, but their efforts should not be overlooked," added Alicia Orta-Ramirez, director of undergraduate studies in the department and adviser to the Food Science Club. "They all have worked very hard and learned a lot in the process."

Graduate students Mark Nisbet and Dongjun Zhao '06, M.S. '08, led the team that brought home second prize in the IFT's Product Development Competition last year, and they said the experience was invaluable for them. Along with 13 other students, they developed Vege3, a crunchy, ranch-flavored, cube-shaped vegetable snack made from tomatoes, broccoli and carrots.

"When doing a Ph.D., your focus becomes very narrow, so these competitions are a way for us to apply more of our general knowledge in product development," said Nisbet.

They are now working to bring Vege3 into commercialization. According to Miller, nobody in recent memory has made the leap from student competition to grocery store shelves. But Nisbet and Zhao are taking the chance, bolstered by enthusiastic reaction to the product at the IFT meeting and from potential consumers, who gave it rave reviews in online polls and sensory taste tests.

It may take awhile to bring Vege3 to market; it takes the U.S. Patent Office 18 months just to review the patent, Nisbet said, then there's licensing, distribution and marketing.

The duo recently completed a workshop hosted by Cornell Center for Technology Enterprise and Commercialization, which introduced them to experts in product licensing, including a lawyer, a business manager and marketers.

"It was really great to get that real-world experience," Nisbet said.

Krisy Gashler is a freelance writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.


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