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Exploring the ‘sweet’ side of food science

Monday, March 4, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Akhila Damodaran, The New Indian Express

Think scientist, think huge-framed safety goggles and a lab filled with test tubes bubbling with different coloured liquids. But science doesn’t always have to serious or boring. Just ask food scientist Dr Maya Warren, who studies the behavioural properties of ice cream and other frozen aerated desserts. Her interest to join the food industry came about many years ago, particularly through an episode of 

Unwrapped (a show that focuses on the behind-the-scenes details of classic American food) on the Food Network. One might think that an entire episode dedicated to how soda is made might sound uninteresting but not to Dr Warren, who recalls, "They were making Turkey-flavoured soda in that particular episode. It might sound weird and boring to have soda in all your Thanksgiving dishes but I got excited by it.”

She was particularly fascinated with how food is created, formulated and packaged, and her love for food science is evident from the second she speaks about food. An expert in the science of frozen aerated desserts, Dr Warren, travelled to the city from LA for research and development (R&D). She’s even dressed for the part and dons a crisp white lab-coat as she talks about how India is a great market as people here love dairy and sweets. "Some sweets are too sugary here. In the US, we have a balance of sweet and sour. The sweetness is balanced with fat there,” she says, adding that she has recently started liking the Indian sweet jalebi. 

Her ultimate favourite, however, is the sweet cream ice cream. "It’s like a blank canvas. It provides you with so much scope to use your creativity and innovate,” says the 34-year-old. 
On the job

Dr Warren’s scientific expertise lies in the microstructure, sensorial and behavioural properties of ice cream and other frozen aerated desserts. In  2017, Dr Warren joined the international ice cream company, Cold Stone Creamery as the Senior Director of Research & Development and Tastemaster, where she uses her knowledge to create frozen desserts and new flavours across the globe. "Once, I tried to make a flavour comprising garlic and cardamom. I realised it wouldn’t be good as they are both strong flavours. I have also tried making buttered ice cream only to find it turn yellow with chunks of butter coming out,” she recalls.

Considering the niche and male-dominated field she is in, she says she never realised if she were ever discriminated but if she were to face such a situation, she would just walk away. "The dollars I earn are not worth my pride,” she says. 

Dr Warren is also a motivational speaker and tries to help people find what motivates them the most. "For me, ice cream is not a job, it’s my lifestyle,” she adds. Interestingly, she didn’t always want to be a food scientist and had dreamt of studying sports medicine after her chemistry training from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. But the thought of being in labs and hospitals didn’t excite her as much as her love for food. So, she went on to pursue an internship with a cereal company but the idea of working on grains didn’t excite her either. Eventually, the food scientist pursued her PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Food Science under professor Richard W. Hartel, in 2015.

Apart from experimenting with ice cream, she enjoys travelling and working out. "I eat lot of ice creams and so, I have to work out. I also love shopping and watching reality TV. I watch the Kardashians. They are my guilty pleasures,” she says and laughs. Besides watching reality shows, Dr Warren has also taken part in one of them with her partner, former lab mate Dr Amy DeJong. The duo became the third all- female team to win the 25th season of The Amazing Race (USA) on CBS. "The experience at the show was amazing. I got many messages on social media from young girls saying they want to become food scientists even though I didn’t talk about it during the show,” she signs off.

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