Health and Science Ashley-Pruit-popcorn

Published on April 17th, 2013 | by Brendon O'Neill

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The Art of Gluten Free Food Science at Kansas State University

I first learned about the Food Science program at Kansas State University when I stumbled upon this news release from the university about farmers who may benefit from increased sorghum production. According to the article, Kansas is generally the leading producer of sorghum in the United States. Since I live in Kansas City, I wanted to find out more about the program, which has focused on gluten-free foods in many of the program’s recent initiatives.

Ashley Pruett is a recent graduate of the Food Science program at Kansas State. She has worked with Professor Fadi Aramouni to help research, develop and promote several gluten free products. I contacted Ashley to find out what I could about the program. I want to thank her for her help in answering these questions. And I want to give props to Kansas State University for developing a great program – and hopefully some great new gluten free foods.

Describe your background and how you became interested in the Food Science program.

Food has always been a big part of my life- gardening with my dad, canning with my grandma, and constant scratch cooking family meals growing up. When my friends were watching MTV, I was watching the Food Network. Because food is my greatest passion, I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in that direction. I received my B.S. in Dietetics in 2010 which then led me to food science.

What sparked your interest in gluten-free product development?

I got in contact with Dr. Aramouni regarding graduate school and he had research to conduct investigating the glycemic index of sorghum. We thought with my nutrition background that I may be a good fit. The rest was history- Dr. Aramouni does most of his product development work with sorghum being that Kansas is one of the top producers in the U.S.

Talk about some of the projects you have worked on and highlights of your education?

Through my two years in the program I have had a lot of great experiences through classes, my research, participating in a national student product development competition, completing an internship, and working on several consulting projects for small companies (primarily KS companies) through Dr. Aramouni’s extension work.

My research: investigating the glycemic index of sorghum in a baked application as compared to other commonly consumed grains in the U.S. We found that the particle size of the flour may have an impact.

Product Development Competition: ‘Crunchums’ (a raspberry~ jalapeno flavored, popped sorghum snack). Picture a miniature popcorn ball. Based on market trend research we felt the product represented the 3 American snacking ideals: convenience, bold flavors, and a healthier snack option. This product was of course gluten free.

I interned for Schwan’s: worked with pizza…and ate A LOT of it!Ashley-Pruit-popcorn-620x350

Consulting projects with Dr. Aramouni have varied across the spectrum from writing a HACCP plan (food safety) to formulating an innovative means for chicken feed.

The highlight of my time here has been the opportunities for travel to attend food shows. At food shows you get to learn and experience the latest innovations in food, and experience food through many cultures.

What projects are you currently working on?

Currently I manage Dr. Aramouni’s lab, the KS Value Added Foods lab at KSU as well as work in product development for Grandma Hoerner’s Foods, INC. I would always like to remain in product development as a career path.

How do you decide which kinds of products to develop in the program?

During my program product development happened for four reasons:

  1. Research & Development class (certain parameters are given)
  2. Product Development Competitions (certain parameters are given)
  3. For one of Dr. Aramouni’s clients (per client request)
  4. Research Grants per certain requests

In the ‘real world’ product development is shaped around that company/brands target market just like most consumer products.

Have your eating habits changed since becoming a food science major? If so, how?

Fun question! My palate has not changed much if at all since learning about food science. I have always eaten an overall ‘healthy’ diet with an emphasis on homemade/whole foods. I have an appreciation for gourmet, specialty food items, and you might say trying new foods is a hobby of mine.

Kansas is among the top producers of sorghum in the nation – are farmers here already seeing a benefit to the growing gluten-free market?

This seems to be an emerging market with lots of potential opportunities. I think some are seeing a benefit, but it is happening slowly.

Are there ethical boundaries with food science that you have to consider when planning product development?

The FDA and USDA have many regulations and requirements that must be abided by when creating product. For example, one mandated set of requirements are known as Standards of Identity. These determine what a food product must specifically contain to be marketed under a certain name. All ingredients and additives must have GRAS status (Generally Recognized As Safe). You also must be mindful about infringing on patents. The list goes on…

For potential students who don’t know much about food science, but think it sounds interesting, can you describe a quick overview of the program at K-State?

Food Science is understanding and manipulating the scientific interactions between food systems and/or food ingredients. Many people confuse food scientists with those in food service, or dietitians. At KSU there is a Food Science and Industry (Science Option) major as well as a Food Science and Industry (Food Business & Operations Management Option) major. There are also several majors that allow you to pursue a specific industry such as baking science, milling science, meat science, etc…

Through your chosen curriculum and/or career path, you can take MANY avenues! Here are the most common:

  • Product Development for the foodie/creative minds
  • Quality Assurance
  • Food Chemistry
  • Food Microbiology
  • Food Fermentation
  • Food Safety
  • Food Engineering/Technology
  • Sensory
  • Food Technologist (troubleshooting and details pertaining to the manufacturing process)
  • Food Technical Sales

If you want to learn more about gluten free food science at Kansas State University, you can read more about their program here on the official site. I want to wish Ashley luck in her career. And I hope she continues down the path of gluten-free food development.


About the Author

Brendon O'Neill created Gluten-Free for Men to give guys a place where they can feel comfortable learning about living a gluten-free life. Through this site he highlights great products, hearty recipes, health information, and the gluten-free guys who make an impact in the community.



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