Podcast: Designing Flavors at Ice Cream University
We are currently accepting applications for Ice Cream University 2018. Click here to apply
Sheilah Kast from WYPR's On The Record radio show interviewed Tim Andon, senior technical service manager, and Whitney LaRoche, a past participant, about our Ice Cream University program for high school students. Click here to listen to the show
SHEILAH KAST: We’re on the record.
Ever imagined creating your own ice cream flavor? What would it be?
Creamy caramel or maybe simple vanilla? What would you add? Ribbons of raspberry jam? Crunchy pecans? Dark chocolate truffles? How about all three?
Designing an ice cream flavor requires both balance and a sweet tooth. Marketing that flavor requires a whole other set of skills. Take coffee, for example, that flavor would most likely appeal to adults while bubble gum or cotton candy confections are more kid friendly options.
This is the kind of inside scoop Harford County High School students learn when they take part in something called Ice Cream University at TIC Gums in White Marsh and joining me to tell us more about the making and marketing of ice cream is Tim Andon, business development manager for TIC Gums which manufactures ingredients that improve the texture and stability of foods for the food and beverage industry. Tim Andon, welcome to On the Record.
TIM ANDON: Thanks, Sheilah, it’s good to be here.
KAST: Ice Cream University is run in association with Cornell University and based on their food science 101 course. Tell us about Ice Cream University.
ANDON: As a Cornell University food science graduate myself, all of the freshmen that attend the program there basically are given an introductory course in food science that walks them through the commercialization of an ice cream flavor. It’s meant to be a really nice teaser for freshmen who are often taking chemistry courses, biology courses, a lot of prerequisites but this serves as an entrée into some of the more exciting parts of product development for those students.
KAST: So that’s the 101 course at Cornell, now you’ve taken that somehow and made it into a kind of weekend spring learning experience for high school kids from Harford County. Tell us about that.
ANDON: Exactly, we really try to pare down to get the most important parts of that class. Obviously, it’s an entire semester at the college level but we’ve really tried to pare that down and translate that into a five weekend session for high school students to really try to increase their interest in food science as a potential field of study. Even when I was at Cornell which has one of the highest ranked food science programs in the nation, I would tell people “Oh, I’m a food scientist” and a lot of kids at the university wouldn’t even know we had that. They think you’re a nutritionist or a dietician or something like this. Really it’s everything between the process of food that comes from a farm and how it gets to our tables
KAST: So that’s a lot of boiling down to get that into 5 weekends. How do you start Ice Cream University?
ANDON: It is a challenge but really we’re trying to give students a taste of entrepreneurialism, a taste of how to not only design a really good ice cream flavor but how you go about marketing that.
One of the things that we found, we’re now in our fifth year of the class, a lot of these high school students maybe hadn’t necessarily had the opportunity to present in front of not only adults but their peers and Industry experts. We have professors that come down from Cornell and teach a class about how their actual dairy manufacturing plant is run and we’ll teach them about these kinds of things but it’s really an opportunity for the kids to follow an idea from its creation stage. Every week they’re trying out new flavors at the end of the class. Experimenting with different combinations. How much flavor they need to put into the specific ice cream they’re making and then they go through and try to develop a marketing plan. Very much like you said at the beginning of the show where if they’re going to be making some sort of bubble gum style flavor their marketing plan really needs to be targeted towards kids or it’s not going to make any sense. We really try to teach the kids about the idea creation process and then how you go about pitching that to a larger audience pretty much like Shark Tank for ice cream.
KAST: What do students learn about items added into an ice cream? Candy, chocolate
ANDON: This is one of the more enlightening parts of the class. A lot of people think you can take normal nuts, inclusions is the technical term, and you can just put them into frozen ice creams and eat them. But a lot of these ingredients have been specifically designed in order to function well and not break any teeth at those really low temperatures so we talk to them about freezing point depression and how that makes things like chewy caramel that you see in ice cream to actually make it chewy and not rock solid.
KAST: What about preventing freezer burn?
ANDON: That’s one of the things the ingredients that TIC Gums supplies will actually help to control and address. Obviously nobody’s going to describe ice cream that they like as being gritty or grainy or having freezer burn. Things like gum…they come from natural sources like seeds or tree saps. They help to bind up that extra water that would otherwise show up as freezer burn if it’s left in the freezer for too long.
KAST: You’ve talked about students being exposed to professors who can walk them through a marketing campaign. Part of Ice Cream University is a competition. The kids form teams and design their own flavor and then present that idea to judges.
ANDON: Definitely usually there’s anywhere between four or five teams and depending on the number of students in the class. But, yes, it’s very much a friendly competition because at the end the winning flavor is actually then produced at Broom's Bloom Dairy up in Harford County so that students not only get to you know have the enjoyment of having won one of the things that I think is actually a lot of fun for both parents and students is actually going to a real creamery and seeing their actual ice cream flavor be produced, being able to taste it, and being able to brag to all their friends and family members that this was something that they actually designed.
KAST: I assume there are more kids wanting to attend Ice Cream University than you have spots for. How does someone qualify for Ice Cream University?
ANDON: The criteria we use is we’re looking for students from Harford County. We ask for them to maintain a 3.0 GPA. Really it’s first come, first serve after that. We’re trying to get a good mix of not only science but business students as well to really try to teach the students that working in teams…we talked about that before…but working in teams is really something that's really a lifelong skill and you know. People are going to have different strengths and weaknesses. Often times the teams that get along the best and have the most diverse group of students amongst them…you know some folks that are interested in science, some that are interested in culinary, some that are interested in business. Those kinds of teams, because they're diverse, tend to come up with more creative solutions.
KAST: That’s Tim Andon, business development manager for TIC Gums, here On the Record….We’re speaking about TIC Gums’ Ice Cream University program for Harford County high school students and I want to bring somebody else into the conversation. Whitney LaRoche, a rising senior at Cornell University's food science program. She participated in Ice Cream University when she was a junior at Bel Air High School. Welcome, Whitney.
LAROCHE: Hello, and thank you for having me.
KAST: Whitney, what did you learn at Ice Cream Unversity?
LAROCHE: I learned all the things that Tim was saying. We learned about inclusions, we learned about flavoring, formulation. We learned about product development and the marketing side of it.
KAST: What did you fall in love with?
LAROCHE: I fell in love with ice cream formulation. Food science encompasses a whole bunch of things that you didn’t know about.
KAST: Had you been thinking about food science even before ICU?
LAROCHE: I definitely did not even know food science existed until Ice Cream University.
KAST: What flavor did your team develop?
LAROCHE: We developed Graham Canyon like Grand Canyon but Graham Canyon.
KAST: Like graham cracker?
LAROCHE: Correct. It was a graham cracker base and then it was vanilla ice cream on top flavored with marshmallow.
KAST: What did the judges think about it?
LAROCHE: They loved it! I believe we came in second or third.
ANDON: It was a very close contest that year. I will say that they came up with one of the best names and this was one of the things we talked to the kids about. Naming the product something that’s memorable.
KAST: You’re starting your last year at Cornell?
LAROCHE: Yes, I am.
KAST: In the food science program?
KAST: What type of career do you have in mind?
LAROCHE: I’m thinking about broadening food science into either media or I’m going to enter the food law industry. I’m not sure yet but I’m definitely exploring both pathways.
KAST: When you say media, what do you have in mind?
LAROCHE: So actually my friend and I are going to participate in Cornell’s radio station and come up with our own food critic talk show.
KAST: Cool. Food radio.
So it’s easy to think about the things the elements that we might like about the taste of ice cream. If we don’t particularly like the flavor, what might be behind that?
ANDON: That’s a really good question.
One of the things we talk a lot about, being a company that says our main mission is to work on texture and stability of food products. Often time people talk about not l liking the taste of something really a lot of it has to do with the actual component. If you think about one of the best examples I use is think about something like vegetables like broccoli or carrots. There's a lot of people that will not eat it if it's cooked but love it when it's raw or vice versa and really that's just a textural difference. That isn't really a flavor. The broccoli still tastes like broccoli at the end of the day and that's one of the things that when people talk a lot about taste a lot of times really if you ask them some follow-up questions they’ll start talking about the texture.
Yogurt I think is another good example to talk about because there's so many different textures of yogurts out there. Whether you're talking about Greek yogurt, whipped yogurt, light yogurt, full-body yogurt… really a lot of the differences in those specific products are textural related and that's really where a lot of our raw materials shine. Giving food producers the ability to customize a texture to what is really going to drive consumer liking as opposed to simply the specific kind of strawberry that they might use in a yogurt.
KAST: I would think the way that it looks is part of it too.
ANDON: You’re hitting on one of the next things I was going to talk about. One of the more fun exercises that we take the high school kids through is really showing them how important the visual aspect of food is and I think a lot of people are familiar with this based on nothing else than that I know folks taking pictures of their food and pushing to Instagram or even something like Top Chef where you're just looking at the food you’re never even tasting it but people they eat with their eyes first and so one of the exercises that we take the kids through is we show them some clear liquids and we’ve added some flavors to them and we take him through this whole process and ask them you know what is it that that it tastes like and of the liquids have different colors in them. There’s a red, there's a yellow, there’s a blue, there’s a purple and really at the end of it we ask them, ”Ok, what does that taste like?” and everyone says blueberries. “What’s the red one taste like?” and everyone says strawberries. “What’s the yellow one taste like?” and they say banana. We’ve flavored them with the same citrus mix so it’s meant to show people that if you see a certain color your mind trusts your eyes before it trusts your tongue and it will tell you exactly what it is that you should be tasting over what you know might be true from your tongue.
LAROCHE: It was an amazing experiment because we were actually fooled. We thought oh, we thought the red was cherry but in actuality, it was whatever flavor it was before.
ANDON: And it’s something that really happens to all sorts of consumers. I very much stole that specific experiment from a sensory analysis class I took in college and the professor did the exact same thing to us and we were kind of dumbstruck. Your eyes have such a strong, strong on how you’re going to perceive flavors.
KAST: When people go to the grocery store today what should the look for if they want to take home the best ice cream?
ANDON: Any ice cream that is freshly made is always going to be best. I tell people you’re never going to get ice cream that tastes any better than when it’s really right coming off the machinery. If you’ve ever had a tour of Ben & Jerry’s they’ll actually give you ice cream that’s really fresh right there from the plant. Anything that hasn't gone through a really large distribution channel where it’s going to have a bunch of freeze/thaw cycles where it comes from a plant, it sits on a dock before it gets put into a freezer at a grocery store. So I would stress finding those good local creameries and there's many here in the Maryland area. Find those guys, find where their products are and almost always those ice creams are going to be far superior to a lot of nationally recognized brands.
KAST: So fresh is real important. What trends do you see in the freezer aisles or small ice cream stores?
ANDON: There’s a lot of different trends in the ice cream industry right now. Whether it’s people going for gelato trying to get a much more indulgent experience that way or if they’re going in the direction of Halo Top that’s coming out with a low calorie ice cream that has the same textural attributes that regular calorie ice cream has. There’s really been a lot of diversity in the food industry and in ice cream specifically trying to meet a lot of different consumer demands. Whether it’s for clean label or whether it's for associated health concerns like non-dairy ice cream. There’s been a huge resurgence in non-dairy ice creams, a lot of really good non-dairy ice creams out there. We’ve worked with a lot of these companies. It will blow you away to taste some of these. You’d never even know if someone didn’t tell you it was non-dairy.
KAST: I’m not familiar with non-dairy ice creams. What are they made of?
ANDON: A lot of times they’ll use different kinds of nuts as the milk source. One of my personal favorites is the ones that are based on cashews. Cashews have a high fat content so they lend themselves very well to performing similarly to traditional dairy fat ice creams. So really those products are some of my personal favorites and I have a little bit of a personal story about it. When my wife was pregnant she was having reactions to dairy foods so we had to try to find out some alternative for her. And we ended up finding a specific kind of cashew ice cream that if I didn't tell you you would never know that this is non-dairy.
KAST: So Whitney this is the kind of thing that you tend to cover in your podcast?
LAROCHE: Of course. I knew a little bit of the cashew ice cream but yeah.
KAST: Well, I wish you luck and I appreciate you telling us about Ice Cream University.