IFT Awesomeness

[by Naveen]

I still have yet to absorb all that happened over the past week, which featured the IFT conference in Chicago. Below is a sampling in alphabetical order.

ADM: Probably not approved by Michael Pollan: corn syrup, soy protein isolate, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, digestion resistant maltodextrin, natural and artificial flavors and colors = a good source of fiber and protein.

Barry Callebaut: Initially I just knew about Fine+Raw Chocolate in New York, but now major companies are looking for ways to retain more nutrients during the chocolate-making process. I wish I took more chemistry as an undergrad.

Bascom Family Farms: Maple syrup is far more interesting than I previously thought. I found a booth than showed aerated maple syrup that had the consistency of butter. They also found a way to concentrate the flavor of maple syrup, without increasing the sugar content, and created various types of maple vinegars.

Chickpea smoothie: There were a lot of smoothie samples, but using chickpea as a base was really unique. By combining with various fruit and vegetable purees, it takes this legume far beyond the realm of hummus.

Consumers: I have a new-found sympathy for people in the food industry. They have a nearly impossible task to satisfy frequently paradoxical consumer demands. It would better if everyone cooked for themselves with raw ingredients, but until we reach that Alice Waters utopia, they will be a fixture of the American food landscape.

Fiber: One of the most interesting talks I attended was about fiber, a topic that I had previously given little thought. Unlike other nutrients, its nearly impossible to find a recommended daily value. Eskimos and some people on liquid diets can survive on none, while vegetarians can get over 70 g/day. The distinction between "soluble" and "insoluble" is not really relevant and is a gross over-simplification for the vast diversity of polysaccharides that people consume.

Free samples: Although I appreciated all the free samples, only some of them were actually informative. Side by side comparisons are good. Free, calorie-reduced, nutrient-enhanced bakery goods are nice, but need context. Color and flavor demos could have been far more interesting by defying the conventional combinations. Giant machines extruding play-dough at the Process Expo are fun to watch.

Good Cacao: I would be happy to be a taster during their recipe development.

Green Zebra: I highly recommend the tasting menu. Someday I'd love to try out the more ambitious (and far more expensive) tasting menus at L2O, Moto, or Alinea.

Inception: Go see it, even if it's not the IMAX screen at Navy Pier.

Innovative Foods, Inc.: I only discovered this booth on the last day, but it did strike me as one of the most innovative. The exhibitor/inventor, Edward Hirshberg, was demonstrating his idea for "pre-cycling." Essentially, by using vegetable by-products and lesser known ingredients (e.g. pulp, stems, assorted legumes), he made energy bars unlike any I've tasted before.

Kraft: They didn't have a booth; they had a restaurant.

Micro-encapsulation: Another hot trend in food science makes me glad to be in Prof. Weitz's lab.

Origami Wraps: This simple idea opens up a world of culinary possibilities. Instead of tortillas or other flour-based wrappers, use a sheet of fruit or vegetable puree: hors d'oeurves, pastry and desserts, glazes, rolls…

Probiotics: Your food will soon take on a life of its own. Scientists are just beginning to understand the complex interactions between your intestinal microbiome and your immune system.

Roquette: I spent over an hour at their booth, chatting with the chocolatier they hired about the challenges of working with sugar-free chocolate, as well as the chocolate-making process in general.

Sensory and consumer preferences: This strikes me as an area of food science ripe for an infusion of Bayesian analysis. I went to their reception on Monday and would be happy to spend more time with this sub-discipline of the food world.

Stevia: you'll be seeing a lot more of this soon, thanks to recent government approval.

Symrise: I was initially drawn by their Happy Hour, but I became fascinated by the flavor development process. I did some side-by-side trials of MSG replacers and soy powder flavor disguisers, then went upstairs (yes, it was a two-story exhibit), to talk with one of their researchers, while sampling flavored potato chips and almonds. It takes eight years of apprenticeship to become a flavor chemist, along with a good dose of natural talent.

That's just a small sample: practically every conversation or exhibit booth triggered some new idea for a blog post, recipe, research project, or career path. There's far more that happens behind the scenes in our food supply than I could have imagined.


  1. Sounds like a pretty fascinating trip!

    I was doing some reading recently that suggested a strong link between the byproducts of fiber fermentation by the microbiome and the immune system. So its not just probiotics, but the macronutrients themselves. While probiotics are getting a lot of press, I'm not convinced that it is a good idea to micromanage the microbiome.

  2. That sounds intriguing: do you have a link to the study? Unraveling the connections between the microbiome, fiber, and the immune system is a fascinating topic.