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Three UW-Madison student teams to compete in national food competitions June 25-27

When eighteen UW-Madison food science students head to Las Vegas later this month, they’ll be packing some delicious luggage: samples of a fruit smoothie, PB&J popsicle and cranberry-filled pretzel snack they painstakingly developed over this past academic year.

Three teams of UW students will be competing in the final rounds of the nation’s most popular collegiate food product development contests, held during the Institute for Food Technologists (IFT) annual meeting, June 25-28.

This is not the first time that Badgers have turned up in force at the event. “It’s unheard of to have three teams make it to the finals, yet we’ve managed to do it two years in a row now,” says Amy DeJong, president of the UW-Madison Food Science Club.

Two of the UW teams will face off in a contest co-sponsored by Disney that focuses on creating healthy snacks for kids. One will compete with Peanut Butter Jamsicles, a popsicle version of the classic PB&J sandwich. The other team created Pit Stop, a Cars movie-themed smoothie that kids can shake up themselves, mixing a purple layer of fruit and vegetable juices with a white layer of Greek yogurt.  “It’s interactive, and children will enjoy relating it—in the context of the Disney movie, Cars—back to whatever race their day may bring,” says Teresa Tierney, Pit Stop team captain.

The third Badger team will compete in a different contest with a microwavable snack called Cranberry POPlers, made of sweet potato-enriched soft pretzels stuffed with cranberry filling. “There are four little POPlers in a 200-calorie serving,” says team captain Tim Grady. “They’re bursting with vitamin A, and they go from the freezer to your plate in just a few minutes.”

Each year, students inevitably face a number of challenges as they turn their ideas into real products. The first few runs of Peanut Butter Jamsicles turned out rock hard, with air pockets and huge ice crystals. But the team got access to a small batch freezer that allowed them to turn their ingredients—peanut butter, grape jelly, Greek yogurt, milk and sugar—into a smooth and delicious treat.

They also had to figure out how to ramp up the peanut butter flavor without adding too much saturated fat. “With the Disney competition, nutrition is very important. Lower fat, lower sugar, low calorie—the judges really look for that when evaluating the proposals,” says Kristen Doster, captain of the Jamsicle team. “So we decided to just add some natural peanut butter flavors to bring that intensity up.”

A major challenge for the Cranberry POPlers team was sweetening the cranberries without adding too many calories. After trying a number of artificial sweeteners, the team opted to add some apple puree to the cranberry sauce. “This let us cut the artificial sweetener in half, but keep it sweet,” explains Grady.

Each team that makes it to the final rounds will have spent the entire academic year plus a bit of the summer preparing for the competition. They brainstorm in the fall, and once they settle on a product, they prepare dozens of batches to fine-tune the recipe. In late winter they assemble a written proposal, and once they make the cut they must expand that into a written report and prepare presentations for the judges. It’s a lot of work, but the students are excited to compete and take a lot of pride in what they’ve accomplished.

“Disney owns the intellectual rights to the products in the Disney competition,” says Grady, “so you could actually see these products on store shelves someday.”

The competitions run June 25-27, and the results will be announced on the evening of June 27.

For more information, contact Kristen Doster, doster@wisc.edu, (920) 655-2755; Tim Grady, tgrady@wisc.edu; Teresa Tierney, tltierney@wisc.edu, (651) 325-7402; or Amy DeJong, adejong@wisc.edu, (847) 804-0658