A Tasty Combination
CALS student combines love of food with applied science degree
Hannah Damiano was a senior in high school when she first learned about food science. And she has her father to thank.
“My dad was working up at Litehouse in Sandpoint when I was deciding what I wanted to major in,” Damiano said. “He mentioned food science and thought it would be something I would enjoy. I didn’t know food science was a thing.”
An Applied Science
Damiano was already leaning toward a major related to the sciences. Her love of food, combined with the applied aspect of a food science degree appealed to Damiano. A native of Spokane, Washington, Damiano learned about the School of Food Science offered jointly by the University of Idaho and Washington State University and decided to enroll.
The UI/WSU School of Food Science allows students to benefit from facilities, faculty and courses on both campuses, regardless of which university they are enrolled in. As a Washington resident, it made sense for Damiano to enroll at WSU for her undergraduate degree. She graduated with a bachelor’s in food science in 2014.
Graduate School: Eight Miles Ahead
Damiano hadn’t planned on pursuing a graduate degree, but after completing several internships as an undergraduate and speaking with professionals in the industry, she decided that graduate school should be her next step.
“Honestly, I didn’t really want to go to grad school, but I want to go into research and development, which is pretty typical of food science graduates,” she said. “So many students want to go into R&D and it’s hard to get those positions. It’s a little bit easier if you have a master’s, and especially have a master’s project that is applicable to industry, which mine was.”
UI professor Helen Joyner heard that Damiano was interested in graduate school and reached out to her.
“I actually didn’t know Dr. Joyner, but I liked what her research emphasis is in,” Damiano said. “There’s not that many people that know much about rheology and tribology, and it’s an important part of food. She was really helpful in coming up with a project that I was happy with.”
UI offered a competitive financial aid package and combined with Joyner’s research emphasis, Damiano decided that the right fit for her graduate degree was only 8 miles away.
A Healthier Cottage Cheese
Damiano’s research project focused on sodium reduction in cottage cheese dressing, the liquid that is added to a tub of cottage cheese during production to help with taste and shelf life.
“Cottage cheese is naturally pretty high in protein and low in calories,” Damiano said. “But it is also bland in flavor if you don’t add anything to it. So they add a lot of salt, partially for that reason. There is a push for reduced salt in processed food products and there isn’t really a reduced sodium formulation for cottage cheese available on the market right now.”
The purpose of the project was to determine if the texture of cottage cheese was affected by adding in less salt.
“I did it two ways. One was strictly reducing the amount of salt I put in the dressing,” Damiano said. “I also used some salt substitutes in the dressing to see what would happen. There are other chloride salts you can add that still have some salty flavor. So, you can reduce the amount of sodium but add something else to partially make up for the saltiness that you’re losing.”
Damiano determined that reducing the sodium content did not have a significant impact on the texture of the cottage cheese. She ran sensory panels as well to look at flavor. Most subjects preferred the full salt formulation but some of the reduced salt formulations performed well. Damiano’s involvement in the project wrapped up when she defended her thesis in October, but there is still work to be done.
“I didn’t look into the microbiological side of things, but salt is a preservative in foods,” she said. “With how much I reduced the salt in some of the samples, it is possible that the shelf life would decrease because you would have increased microbial growth.”
Damiano will graduate with her master’s in food science in December and hopes to find a research and development position.
“R&D is the most fun and exciting part of food science,” she said. “It’s very diverse what direction you can go. It’s a job where you can really use a lot of what you learn as a food science major.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences