Yara Benavides

Yara Hometown: Medellin, Colombia
Degree pursuing: Food Science PhD
Advisor: Dr. Gary Reineccius


Research focus:
In the food industry, flavor is an extremely important factor that directly influences consumer perception of food quality. As consumers increasingly demand natural ingredients, it is important for the food industry to find viable alternatives to replace artificial ingredients. However, natural ingredients come with a whole host of engineering challenges; in particular, they are often much more unstable and susceptible to oxidation than artificial flavors due to their chemical composition. To address this challenge, many food companies have employed a microencapsulation technique to protect natural flavors, known as spray drying. My research aims to build an understanding on how wall materials used in spray drying are adsorbed and distributed on the surface of oil (flavor) droplets and how this distribution influences the oxygen barrier permeability.


How did you become interested in food science?
I first became interested in Food Science while studying at a Catholic high school in my native Colombia. My school’s nuns would often go on missions in the western part of the country to provide food and medical assistance, as the region suffered heavily from armed military conflict, food insecurity, and one of the lowest standards of living in the region. Through Food Science, I hoped that I could one day play a small role in helping communities like these by developing innovative food products that help satisfy nutritional needs and address food insecurity.


Why did you choose the University of Minnesota?
I chose the University of Minnesota for two main reasons. First, Dr. Reineccius is internationally
recognized across the food industry for his contributions in food flavors and encapsulation.
Since I was familiar with his work, I felt that my research interests were well aligned with the
focus of his lab. Second, the Twin Cities are well positioned as a global hub for food innovation,
which presents a number of unique research, networking, and professional development
opportunities.


How does your work tie into the research being done in your advisor's lab?
Dr. Reineccius’s lab has long focused on flavor research. His lab responds to the needs and
trends of the food industry related to encapsulation of food ingredients (primarily flavorings),
emulsions, and flavoromics. My research findings related to microencapsulation will help fill a
knowledge gap in the field of flavor science and will respond to a need in the food
industry.