When you hear “gluten-free,” great flavor and texture may not be the first things that come to mind. But a new gluten-free raspberry-filled chocolate waffle developed by a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison food science students could change that.
Their rice-flour waffle, called Wochi, was inspired by a traditional Japanese treat that’s cooked and consumed during Japan’s New Year’s celebrations. The UW-Madison team jazzed up their frozen, toaster-ready version by putting milk chocolate in the batter and raspberry filling in the center.
Their idea piqued the interest of judges in the nation’s premiere collegiate food development contest. The UW team has advanced to the final round of the IFTSA and Mars Product Development Competition, held during the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting. The students will head to Chicago in July to compete against finalists from five other schools.
“Consumers assume that gluten-free products are going to taste bland, so we decided right away to add flavor, to add fruit,” says team leader Joe Smith, a senior double-majoring in food science and microbiology.
The main challenge in developing the gluten-free waffle, was, well, the lack of gluten. Gluten proteins in wheat flour help the dough rise and give baked goods their texture. Rice flour is gluten-free, so the student’s first waffle attempts missed the mark on crunch and consistency. They persevered, trying various ingredients and eventually settling on adding some xanthan gum, a common food-thickening agent, to help boost the waffle’s texture.
Wochi’s raspberry filling also posed challenges: Moisture in the filling tended to migrate, making for a soggy waffle. The students’ solution was to bolster the filling with modified food starches, which help hold the water molecules in place and also extend the product’s shelf life.
The students developed, tested and refined Wochi over the course of the 2012-2013 academic year. They modified the recipe five times to get everything just right. Smith says that’s par for the course in food development. “It’s all about learning how to solve problems along the way,” he says.
Other team members are junior Emily Harbison, senior Ray Hirano, senior Katy Kaja, junior Kelley McNeil, sophomore Amy Parr, junior Ragita Pramudya, senior Jennifer Seol, junior Molly Stasaitis and senior Di Wang.