Caffeinated snack wins top banana in national contest

CaféNana, a banana-inspired, caffeinated pick-me-up snack, partly made with food waste and produced by a team of Cornell students, has won the 2023 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Student Association’s Mars Wrigley Product Development national competition in July in Chicago.

This is Cornell’s 11th winning food product for this contest during the past three decades. Since the early 1990s, college food product teams have been submitting ideas to the IFT competition, which is hosted by the world’s largest food organization. The contest receives about 20 university team submissions and six finalists are chosen annually.

The teams appear before an expert panel to pitch their products, which are judged on topics such as taste, marketing feasibility and the ability to scale for commercial success.

CaféNana fuses fine coffee grounds, banana peel flour and sunflower seed butter. The mixture is wrapped in a chewy banana “leather” – which is dehydrated banana fruit and pureéd peel – to make what looks like a cookie-style health bar.

“The judges thought it was very, very tasty,” said Phillip Teixeira DaSilva ’23, a CaféNana team co-captain.

Six CaféNana bite-size pieces provide the caffeine equivalent of half a cup of coffee, perfect for a midday refresher. “The judges said they’d eat it during an afternoon break at work and they appreciated our product’s sustainability aspects – which include thinking about equitable production practices when the product gets scaled up.”

The product, which is gluten-free and plant-based, includes banana peels – a nutritious part of the fruit that is usually thrown away. Peels contain phosphorus, iron, calcium and magnesium, with zinc, copper, potassium and manganese in lower concentrations.

“Our team is interested in bringing more sustainability to the food industry,” DaSilva said. “Sustainability bolstered our product and its identity.”

In addition to DaSilva, team members are: Christian Binks ’24, doctoral student Hanyu Chen, Jessica Hensel ’25, master’s student Jun Li, Melanie Marshall ’24, master’s student Sofia Morales Rico, Justin Samovar ’24 (co-captain) and Parker Venator ’24.

“Churroats,” a fusion of Asian flavors and churros, from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, earned second place at the IFT contest, while Michigan State University’s “Veggie-Go (Chik‘n Cheese)” – a grain-inspired interpretation of macaroni and cheese – earned third place.

Cornell’s product development team has earned 10 other IFT first-place finishes: Pizza Pop-Ups, a toaster-ready pizza (1995); Stir-Ins, a pencil-shaped cookie with flavoring on the tip for dunking in coffee (1996); Wrapidos, a cone-shaped, tortilla-style wrap (1998); SweetSpots (1999); Dough TEMPtations (2012); Squashetti (2013); Popples (2014); Jack’d Jerky (2017); Smoothie Bites (2020); and Tofumisu (2021.)

In addition to the CafeNana team win, the team’s faculty adviser Julie Goddard ’99, Ph.D. ’08, professor of food science, was named an IFT Fellow at the annual conference.

For IFT academic competitions, doctoral student Danielle Heaney earned first place for her research in the fruit and vegetable products division, while doctoral student April Huang earned first place for her research in the protein division.

For the IFT academic research presentations, doctoral students Cydney Jackson (nutraceuticals and functional foods), Emile Punzalan (fruits and vegetables) and Viral Shukla (product development) placed in their respective divisions.

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Kaitlyn Serrao