Degree pursuing: Ph.D. in Food Science
Adviser: Dr. Gary Reineccius
Research focus: Protein and its interaction with flavors
The most important factor for a consumer to buy a product one time or be a repeat customer is most often its flavor. The current market trend towards consuming increased amounts of plant protein in our diet continues. Unfortunately, the process of flavoring proteins to gain an acceptable flavor over time is not simple. Adding flavorings to high protein foods/beverages will lead to interactions generally reducing overall product acceptance and also the shelf life of the product. Therefore, it is pertinent to understand protein-flavor interactions to formulate consumer acceptable products. It is generally accepted that the interactions are multifaceted. There has been a lot of research over four decades studying the temporary interactions like hydrophobic, hydrophilic interactions between flavor compounds and various proteins but very little work has been done on a more permanent interaction: covalent bonding. Studying the covalent linkages are important because it is irreversible and therefore can permanently deteriorate the product. This research aims to determine the covalent bonds that are formed between the side chains and terminal amino acids of food proteins (plant and dairy based), and aroma compounds. The reaction product that is expected to form is via the Schiff base formation or Michael addition between proteins (e.g. primarily with free amine groups) and flavorings containing carbonyl groups. The extent and rate of these chemical reactions will be monitored by MALDI-TOF MS. The study hopes to provide understanding of the interactions of different flavor molecules under different conditions as the type and rate of interaction vary with functional groups present, protein structure, amino acid composition of the protein, pH, water activity, storage temperature, and food composition.
How did you become interested in food science?
After completing my Bachelors in chemical engineering, I got a job in a flavor company in India. The fact that a mixture of certain chemicals in definite proportions, gives rise to an overall aroma which mimics its natural counterpart fascinated me and kindled my interest to learn more about flavor chemistry and in turn food science. I was also excited to explore the space where the two worlds would possibly meet – engineering, where things are viewed in industrial, large scale and science, where things are viewed from molecular or small scale standpoint.
Why did you choose the University of Minnesota?
When I looked into research labs for my graduate school whose main focus is on flavor chemistry, one name kept popping up – Gary Reineccius. Also, one of his books – Flavor Chemistry was the first book that was given to me during my initial training in the flavor company. I also liked the idea that his research focus has always been one which can be applied or scaled up to an industrial level. So, flavor research was the primary reason I applied to University of Minnesota, and I am glad that I got it.
How does your research tie into the research being done in your adviser's lab?
My lab focuses on encapsulation and flavor research. During my first year, we published a paper on encapsulation which helped me to convert to pursue my Ph.D. degree without the completion of my MS degree. Later for my Ph.D. research we are focusing on flavor research – proteins and its interactions with flavors. Also, I am working on an industry collaborated project studying the effect of different carrier systems on encapsulation of orange oil by spray drying.
Upon completion of my Ph.D. I plan to work in a flavor industry for a while trying to apply all that I have learnt and also to continue to develop my knowledge on flavor chemistry. Eventually, I would like to start my own flavor company/research lab and work towards making it a pioneer in this field.