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New field blends food science with creativity

/ Source: The Associated Press

Kevin McCarthy already knows how to cook a mean steak. Now he’s learning the science behind what makes a steak so tasty.

At 24 and after seven years of experience, McCarthy is going back to school to get a degree in culinology — an area of study that blends the science and technology of food production and preservation with the culinary artistry used by chefs.

McCarthy first learned cooking techniques at Cincinnati State University. Now at the University of Cincinnati, he’s taking chemistry classes, studying the biology of foods and learning how foods react at the molecular level when cooked.

“I was a cook for a few years before I started school, but I think this culinology degree will open a lot of doors,” said McCarthy, who is gaining experience at Givaudan Flavors Corp. in Cincinnati in a cooperative agreement.

New flavors and products

Changing technology and the demand for tastier, safer and more nutritious foods are driving the culinology trend. Many in the food industry predict it will result in new flavors and products that reach consumers faster.

“It should help jump-start product development,” said Harry Crane, executive chef and culinary manager at Kraft Foodservice, a division of Kraft Foods North America Inc. in suburban Chicago. “The traditional way of developing products such as lines of salad dressings has been to hire chefs to create the dressings and then have food scientists figure out how to manufacture them in large quantities.”

Culinologists will be able to understand both parts of the process and cut the time needed to develop products and get them to consumers more quickly, Crane said.

“Culinologists will have the ability to help the food industry find more efficient and economical ways of manufacturing convenient, shelf-stable foods that actually have the look and taste of food served in a restaurant,” said Jeff Cousminer, of the Research Chefs Association.

At Clemson University, food science traditionally attracted student-scientists. The addition of a culinology degree is drawing liberal arts students strong on creativity.

“Once those students learn the basic science and chemistry of food and gain the necessary culinary skills, they will be the ones to come up with the creative products and flavors that consumers will love,” said Johnny McGregor, chairman of Clemson’s food science department.

A Clemson team of mostly culinology students won a $10,000 prize for Jala~Mango, a multi-use sauce, marinade and glaze that blends Mexican and Asian flavors in a sweet-sour base. The competition was sponsored by Danisco, a Denmark-based food company.

“I think as more culinologists get out in the field, we will see more new flavor combinations like that,” McGregor said.