Getting to the Root of Stress: UWRF Students Win National Award

Getting to the Root of Stress: UWRF Students Win National Award

ABOVE PHOTO: UW-River Falls students, from left, Rafael Larosiliere, Anna Euerle, Kate Petersen, Yihong Deng, and Ashley Gruman won first place in a national contest by developing a dairy-based product aimed at helping ease people’s anxiety. The group won the Dairy Management Inc. New Product Competition and received the award in Chicago. Contributed photo.

A team of University of Wisconsin-River Falls students has turned a challenging project into a first-place national award by developing a dairy-based product aimed at helping ease people’s anxiety.

“After the initial shock set in, I was filled with pride for our team,”

Students Yihong Deng, Ashley Gruman, Rafael Larosiliere, Kate Petersen and Anna Euerle won the honor as part of the Dairy Management Inc. New Product Competition that challenged students to come up with innovative items that would bring people a sense of calm. The UWRF team received its award July 17 at the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and trade show in Chicago. 

In addition to winning the contest, team members will split the $8,000 first place award.  The competition was open to undergraduate and graduate students from across the U.S., making UWRF students’ accomplishment especially impressive, said Grace Lewis, assistant professor of animal and food science at UWRF who led the student team. Many other teams were comprised of graduate students; UWRF’s team was undergrads.  

“This team of students worked tirelessly to develop this product, and they had to overcome many, many technical difficulties along the way,” Lewis said. “In the end, this product is delicious, healthy, commercially viable, and very novel.”

The competition called for participating teams to develop a new product that is at least 51% dairy, is a good source of protein, and provides a sense of calm to people ingesting it. The UWRF student team devised a product called RootCurd, a ginger-based, sweetened dairy pudding that contains 20 grams of protein per serving. 

RootCurd is 89% dairy and comes from a traditional Chinese recipe. It contains ginger, which gives the product a slightly spicy flavor, and lavender, which helps reduce physical and mental stress. Idaho Milk Products donated ingredients for developing RootCurd, and Karalyn Littlefield, a lecturer in the UWRF Animal and Food Science Department, contributed ideas for the product.  

Student award winners said they’re proud of their accomplishment and the fact they were able to come up with a high-quality food with calming properties that can benefit people. Devising RootCurd to comply with competition rules provided multiple challenges, they said, and overcoming them is gratifying. The students are interested in seeing if they can move forward with commercializing RootCurd.

A feeling of disbelief flooded the UWRF student team when they were announced as winners, a sense soon replaced by accomplishment and pride. The win made all the late nights and work devising about 40 different versions of RootCurd worth it, said Petersen, of Clear Lake, who graduated with a food science and technology degree in May and now works in research, development and application for food company Kerry Group.

“After the initial shock set in, I was filled with pride for our team,” Petersen said. “We had put in lots of hard work and many late nights so finding out we had won made it all worth it.” Like her teammates, Gruman didn’t expect to take top honors in the contest. But the skills they learn at UWRF gave them the ability to overcome challenges and finish with a great result while learning multiple skills along the way, according to Gruman, a junior food science and technology major from Fredonia.

“Leaning on our coursework in food science, we developed a very particular process for RootCurd,” she said. “This allowed us to maintain the perfect texture with ensuring food safety was a top priority.” Deng, a senior food science major from Zhangzhou, China, said “it was a rewarding moment” when she and her teammates were announced as contest winners, especially given all the work students did developing RootCurd. She is familiar with the desert and is proud that students were able to create viable RootCurd that met contest requirements.

“Trying to refine the product with an original recipe from China, a dessert I like and am familiar
with, to create a high-protein, clean-label, stackable product is a good practice to apply our food
science knowledge to,” she said.

Euerle, a senior food science major from Litchfield, Minn., and Larosiliere, who graduated in May as a food science major and is from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, said the win is especially gratifying given repeated hallenges with the RootCurd and the fact that UWRF hadn’t previously competed in the event. “We felt like the underdogs,” Euerle said. “A lot of the other schools had competed before, and their teams were made up of graduate students. When it was announced (that UWRF had won), I truly was honored.”

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