A class at the University of Connecticut is developing a yogurt that incorporates the juice of an up-and-coming superfood.
Assistant animal science professor Dennis D’Amico’s Dairy Technology class is developing a yogurt with the juice of aronia berries, also known as chokeberries, for their major semester-long project. The UConn Plant Science Research Farm has been growing and harvesting aronia berries and wanted to incorporate them into a palatable food product.
“This was developed between plant sciences expertise and our expertise and then it became a part of the academic portion of Dr. D’Amico’s class,” Animal Science Department Head Steven Zinn said.
Aronia berries are high in antioxidants, improve blood circulation, help prevent diabetes and may even help suppress and prevent the growth of cancerous cells, according to a Medical News Today article. Due to the significant potential health benefits of the berry, there has been a push to find ways to incorporate it into foods.
“This will be one of the first products where this berry actually gets incorporated into food stuffs, and that actually may end up having huge impacts if it really works out,” Zinn said.
Last year, there was an effort by a nutritional science student working in the creamery to incorporate the berries into ice cream. However, the berries are very tart and fibrous which makes them unsavory to eat whole.
“Previously, they put the berry into the ice cream. I don’t think a lot of planning went into it. It wasn’t very good,” D’Amico said.
To solve the problems associated with using the berries whole, D’Amico and his class developed a process to extract the juice from the berries.
“Its (flavor is) so overpowering. We needed to figure out a way to get around that,” D’Amico said. “Extracting the juice out allowed us to get a usable product. (And) we didn’t dump boatloads of sugar in to cover it up.”
D’Amico said the yogurt serves as an effective vehicle to get aronia berries into people’s diets via a palatable product.
"The flavor of the yogurt really complements that berry much better than trying to put it into something like ice cream,” D’Amico said.
The class developed 12 different formulations with different combinations of starter cultures, sugar contents and aronia juice content to test. The same formulation continually came out as the favorite in taste tests with his class, his graduate students and staff at the creamery.
“It really separated out quite obviously as ‘this is the formulation that students preferred,’ so it made the analysis pretty easy,” D’Amico said. “The winners really shined.”
Now that the yogurt has been developed and tested on the small-scale, the next step is to produce a much larger batch. In the small batches, the class used store-bought, homogenized milk. For the larger batches, they will be using non-homogenized UConn milk.
“The critical thing that makes it totally impossible to mimic anywhere else in the country is it uses UConn milk,” Zinn said. “You can’t make our products because you don’t have our milk.”
D’Amico said if, when produced on a larger scale, the yogurt proves successful, there may be other ways to develop and serve this product.
“This is a great first step to get this off and then, if it’s really successful, there are other avenues we can take it,” D’Amico said.
If the product is well-received, they will likely work with Dining Services to make it available to students in some way.
D’Amico said the process of developing this product is beneficial to his students’ learning.
“It really ties it all together to be able to come up with the idea, do it on a small scale, do it on a large scale and see it go to production,” D’Amico said.
Zinn was glad this project was a collaborative effort between multiple departments within the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.
“It was a great opportunity to tie the two academic programs of the two academic departments together and use expertise from both,” Zinn said. “That was my goal in all of this…and the fact that we might end up with a product out of it is bonus.”
Anna Zarra Aldrich is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @ZarraAnna.