Students create mango-rich business opportunity
|Alex Fredrickson of UI and Jesse Zuehlke of WSU (l-r) place mango slices on trays where they will be dried by solar-powered fans. Photo by Angela Lessen, WSU.|
|WSU/UI Food Science Club members Rossana Villa-Rojas, Lauren Schopp and Jesse Zuehlke bask in their recent mango win in Las Vegas. Eight students made up the team that placed first. Photo by Linda Weiford, WSU|
* 06-29-12 WSU News - Kenya nutrition addressed: Food product team wins nat'l competition
The collaborative food science team in June won the annual national Institute of Food Technology competition, held in Las Vegas. The competition, titled "Developing Solutions for Developing Countries," focused this year on mangoes and was designed to promote the application of food science and technology and the development of new products and processes that are targeted at improving the quality of life for people in developing countries. Now, as they bask in the mango moment for their win, part of their competition proposal is being considered for application in underdeveloped countries.
The eight-member WSU/UI team's winning creation is a deep-fried pastry filled with chopped mangoes named it Mango Maandazi. And if their idea catches on, the packaged, ready-to-make-mix may sell, um, like hotcakes.
Thinking beyond the product
The student winners five from WSU and three from UI are members of the universities' Food Science Club. Among them is Rossana Villa-Rojas, a Ph.D. student in biosystems engineering who came to WSU from Mexico a year ago.
"Back home, mangoes grow everywhere on trees, and I ate them all the time. Then I come here where they don't grow, but I end up with a team of students that wins a national competition for how we used them in a new product. I am so impressed, she said.
As were the judges, selecting the WSU/UI team above finalists from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
"I loved how the students thought beyond the product itself, explained General Mills senior scientist Tom Nacks from his office in Minneapolis, "and how they figured out small scale production options that are economically feasible and would generate income for poverty stricken rural villages in Kenya, he said.
An African twist
To understand the fuss over a product derived from a fruit so juicy that it's often eaten over a kitchen sink, consider the mission issued by the Institute of Food Technology: To create a mango-based food product for the people of Kenya that addresses deficiencies in their nutrition.
Mangoes, with flesh as yellow-orange and smooth as sherbet, grow abundantly in Kenya. But half of them rot because of poor roads to transport them, a lack of cold storage facilities, and a short growing season, the students learned from their research.
"We knew we'd have to create a product that was nutritional and tasted good, and most challenging of all, could be prepared rapidly, said team leader Jesse Zuehlke, a WSU student earning his doctorate degree in food science.
Also in their research, students discovered maandazi: a triangular, fried dough so popular in Kenya that it's almost a national institution -- similar to the scone in England.
"Not only do Kenyans eat maandazi with tea, but throughout the day as a snack and with their meal at supper, said Zuehlke. "Sometimes it is their meal.
With the team's new-found knowledge, "We thought, Why not stuff maandazi with mangoes?' said Villa-Rojas, who, as the group's sole engineering student, played trouble-shooter as members brainstormed to merge Kenya's beloved maandazi with its glut of mangoes. "Someone would fire off an idea, and I'd point out potential problems, she said.
Dehydration creates solution and jobs
The biggest problem was how to keep the highly perishable mangoes from rotting. The students proposed that regional processing centers be set up in Kenya where workers clean and cut the mangoes into slices and bits, and then dehydrate them using solar-powered dryers.
Not only does dehydrating prolong the mangoes' shelf life, but they still taste good and maintain their nutrient value, said Zuehlke. What's more, with mango farmers bringing in more revenue and the regional processing centers workers getting paid, "this would create a potential boon to rural communities, he said.
And so, the students created Mango Maandazi, a packaged whole wheat and enriched flour mixture loaded with dried mango bits and spiced with cardamom that customers buy in stores. To prepare, just add water, similar to what Americans do with Jiffy Cake Mix. Then, do a little kneading, slice into scone-like shapes and fry in cooking oil. When eaten, the dried mango bits paired with the cardamom make these fluffy parcels taste at once citrusy and savory.
Make the idea fly
After agricultural food scientist Gleyn Bledsoe heard the students' presentation in Las Vegas, he approached them about using their winning idea in Pakistan where mangoes are the national fruit. Bledsoe, a UI adjunct professor, works in that country with the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.
He is especially interested in the group's simple and inexpensive method of drying the sliced mangoes with solar-run fans at regional centers, he said, where workers would package and distribute them to wholesalers and retailers.
"I'm working on the project now, and I believe we will get it funded for application in Pakistan and other countries where mangoes are an important crop, said Bledsoe by e-mail from Pakistan, where, among other things, he is promoting food business development with WSU's Barbara Rasco, professor of food science and human nutrition.
In the meantime, the WSU/UI group hopes the entire Mango Maandazi Project takes hold in Kenya, as government agencies look for ways to increase the fruit's value and improve the livelihood of its people, said Zuehlke.