Spotlight: Elizabeth Clark, Food Scientist

Six years, two degrees and through much trial and error later, Elizabeth Clark is officially a Food Scientist with a Masters degree from Kansas State University. Clark defended her thesis in early April, after two years of exploring the inner workings of a possible bread alternative.

With the world population projected by the United Nations to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, Clark views her job as more important than ever.

“We have to have a way to feed all these people, and that’s where food scientists come in. Because we have to find a way to feed people with less farmers, less land and a lot of emerging things like diseases, allergies, and other deficiencies and eradicate world hunger and still doing it to make a safe, nutritious food.”

After her undergraduate degree, Clark got an offer from Nestle to work with their Dejourno Pizzas in pizza division. Instead, she stayed and studied under Dr. Fadi Aramouni to explore the inner workings of Breadfruit. The Hawaiian, cantaloupe sized “starchy tree potato” has a short shelf life. Clark got the job of learning how the fruit could be used as a gluten-free, bread alternative similar to rice flour. Others, like the Wall Street Journal, have claimed in the past that Breadfruit is a new food of the future.

Clark’s adventure was to 1) put the Breadfruit flour into bread and 2) see what it did to quality.

“As food scientists our job is to find the ideal processing time, temperature – anything related to make the final end product uniform and high quality – we have to experiment to see how that works,” said Clark.

Dozens of loaves later, Clark had some answers: the Breadfruit did not hold as well as a gluten-free substitute. Instead, she found the Breadfruit was a good flour extender, giving an extension to a traditional loaf. In addition, the fruit was full of fiber, making it an economical ideal to add in for dietary needs.

“Sometimes in science when you find what you were looking for wasn’t there, you find something else. That’s kinda what happened here.”

On top of that, Clark runs the daily operations of the thermal processing lab. In Call Hall over 300 clients ship their food products to be tested for the green light to sell from local farmer’s markets to larger retail.

The continuous media attention toward issues like feeding the world and GMOs gives Clark perspectives of a variety of issues.

“(Being a food scientist) I always have talking points with people. In case there is an awkward null in conversation.”

From her lab experience, thesis work, contributor to the blog Science Meets Food, and nominee for Student Employee of the year, Clark has now accepted a position in Virginia Tech’s graduate school doing sensory science dealing with food and emotions. “It’s a huge umbrella topic – a very unexplored area of research.”

“In the future I’d like to be a professor at a university.” This position gives her a step in new advancements of food.

“It’s kinda exciting to be a Food Scientist right now. There’s a lot of technology that’s now available since it’s advanced so much.”