As part of her graduate work at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Liz Fenner had to eat a lot of ice cream.
But it wasn’t just any ice cream.
Fenner created a dual-flavor version for her master’s thesis in food science. It starts out as vanilla and then “you experience a slight burst of cherry,” said Fenner, who graduated this month from MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
Fenner had to figure out how to encapsulate one flavor to delay its release. She won’t go into much detail.
“I’m kind of keeping the actual ingredients a secret right now because we are talking about a patent for it,” she said.
She chose vanilla because it “doesn’t mask other flavors.”
“We chose cherry — well, cherry happens to be one of my favorite flavors,” she said. “Also, it is a very simple flavor.”
More complex flavors like chocolate, she said, consist of hundreds of compounds.
Fenner, who is from Weatherby Lake, comes from a family that has been involved in the food industry for at least four generations.
Her great-grandfather ran a dairy in St. Joseph. Her grandfather owned a small food ingredient company in St. Joseph. And her father worked in finance for a food ingredient company in Chicago.
“I really got interested in it (food sciences) in middle school,” she said. “My dad would take me up to the company he worked for and I would kind of intern and get to experience food science and labs and stuff during the summers.”
She learned a lot about how foods are made and what goes into them — including the ingredients on labels that are just gobbledygook to most people.
“I could tell all my friends about that, what they do and why they are added,” Fenner said. “It was really fun to learn and it was a very good experience for me.”
Fenner worked on the dual-flavor ice cream with her adviser, Ingolf Gruen, associate professor of food chemistry.
The idea mostly came from Fenner, Gruen said in an email interview.
“The significance is simply that hopefully in the future we may have more interesting flavors for ice cream, i.e. flavors that change while the ice cream is consumed,” he said. “There is not much more significance to it than ‘being fun,’ similar to having pumpkin- or eggnog-flavored ice cream over the holidays.”
Gruen said Fenner has what it takes — an understanding of science combined with imagination, creativity and tenacity — to become an excellent product developer.
One of the biggest challenges she faced was timing: When people eat ice cream, it’s only in the mouth for a few seconds.
“It is a very fast ingestion and we had to consider the melting point of ice cream in the mouth and other factors relating to that,” Fenner said.
She had to find the right material to encapsulate the second flavor. The capsules had to be a certain thickness and manipulated to release the flavor at the right moment.
“We had to play around with it a little bit before we found one that worked well and didn’t dissolve within the ice cream mix and didn’t dissolve during processing and subsequent storage, but only dissolved in the mouth,” she said.
Taste testers gave the ice cream a thumbs-up, Fenner said.
“It still needs a little tweaking, so it is not ready to be mass-produced,” she said. “But at this point, it is a very good product.”
One remaining issue is how to produce the capsules in bulk.
“At the moment it takes about an entire morning to make enough capsules for a half gallon of ice cream,” Gruen said. “Considering labor costs, that would be a very expensive ice cream if we tried to sell it.”
In other words, don’t go looking for it in your grocer’s freezer case just yet.