UW students hope to “wok” and paddle to national food contest victories

June 12, 2014

by Nicole Miller

Walking Wok

The Walking Wok, shown wrapped and unwrapped, was developed by UW-Madison food science students who will compete in the national food competition in New Orleans.

One team of UW-Madison food science students hopes to "wok" away with a victory, while the other aims to cruise via canoe, as they compete for top honors in two national collegiate food product development competitions held June 21-23 during the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo in New Orleans.

The first team will compete in the final round of the Institute of Food Technologists Student Association (IFTSA) & Mars Product Development Competition with a product called Walking Wok, a chicken and vegetable stir-fry wrapped in a gluten-free tortilla. From the outside, the frozen, microwavable product looks like a burrito, but the inside is filled with chicken, brown rice, red peppers, onions, sugar snap peas and grilled pineapple in a ginger-flavored hoisin sauce.

"It tastes really good, and it's a great way to have Chinese food on-the-go," says team leader Kelley McNeil, a senior in the food science program.

While teams are judged on the product itself-how it looks and tastes-they are also scored on the product's nutrition, food safety plans, marketing plans and how they overcame obstacles during the development process.

For the Walking Wok team, the primary challenge was getting the gluten-free tortilla just right. They started with a typical gluten-free tortilla recipe, but it was "pretty bad," says McNeil.

"So we decided to make our own recipe. Creating our blend, we ended up looking at a lot of gluten-free cooking blogs to find tips and tricks, and it actually helped us eliminate things that people had tried and that failed," she says. Still, the team tested at least 10 formulations. They are very happy with the final recipe, which includes seven ingredients: brown rice flour, sorgum flour, sweet potato flour, sticky rice flour, tapioca flour, white rice flour and corn starch.

Pochahantas’ Canoe Cruisers

Pocahontas’ Canoe Cruisers, canoe-shaped creations developed by another UW student group, will be judged in a second contest.

The second food science student team is competing with a product they created called Pocahontas' Canoe Cruisers in the final round of the Disney-IFSTA Product Development Competition. This Disney movie-themed sweet potato pie features a canoe-shaped whole grain crust filled with a thin layer of cranberries topped with sweet potato filling.

The frozen, microwavable product provides a nutritious snack for kids. One portion-four little canoes-provides children with a half-serving of vegetables and whole grain, as well as a good amount of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium.

"The main challenge we faced was coming up with the right size and shape that kids would want to eat," explains team leader Anna Spensley, a food science senior. The team, composed entirely of product development competition first-timers, eventually settled on the shape of a mini-canoe because "it was both appealing and easy for children to eat," says Spensley.

At the conference, students turn in a comprehensive report about their product, present a poster, perform a promotional skit, and hold a private presentation and tasting for competition judges. Results will be announced at the end of the evening on June 23.

Other members of the Walking Wok team are Adam Bartling, Emma Bauer, Jennifer Burke, Jenna Fantle, Emily Harbison, Amy Parr, Zoua Plia Thao, Jay Stapp, Kayla Van Acker, and April Zhao.

Other members of the Pocahontas' Canoe Cruisers team are Nicole Gaudino, Eleanor Miller and Claire Poethke.