Sweet science

Doctoral student Yun Wang found a better way to make non-dairy frozen treats.

Aug. 24, 2023

The world is getting a little sweeter for people who prefer non-dairy frozen treat options over ice cream thanks to one University of Missouri researcher who has developed a better tasting, smoother soy-based frozen dessert.

For her Ph.D. dissertation, Yun Wang experimented with creating a soy-based alternative to ice cream from a special type of soybean oil derived from soybeans bred by College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) faculty member Andrew Scaboo. The results, which were recently published in the Journal of Food Science, found that the homegrown treat not only outperformed other plant-based frozen treats in a blind taste test, but also packed an extra nutritional punch.

“Everybody likes ice cream,” Wang said. “It’s an indulgent treat, and, right now, plant-based foods are gaining popularity for a variety of reasons, so we are looking to provide more options for that.”

For her product, Wang started with high-oleic, low-linolenic soybeans created by Scaboo, assistant professor of plant science and technology, which makes the product heart healthier than other options because of a lack of saturated fats and more beneficial monounsaturated fatty acid. Oil was cold-pressed, which meant the extraction process was temperature controlled to keep oil unchanged and preserve bioactive compounds. Ultimately, it was this step that made a creamier treat as it affects the size of the fat cells in the oil. Perfectly sized fat cells and partially coalesced network are the key to smooth, dairy-like texture, Wang explained.

Once Wang produced her treat using the facilities at Buck’s Ice Cream on campus, she put it up against ice creams made with dairy cream and other commercially-available non-dairy frozen treats in a blind test taste for 80 people. The results: Wang’s soy treat outperformed all other non-dairy options in both taste and texture.

She also examined her product through scientific tests for things like hardness and nutrition. For the latter of which, her ice cream not only out-performed other non-dairy options, but also outperformed traditional dairy-based ice cream.

“It contains 5% protein,” Wang said. “This is good. Most non-dairy frozen treats are around 1%, and dairy ice cream is around 3%.”

Creating healthier, more satisfying foods is why Wang chose the career path she did. Initially, Wang studied bioengineering during her undergraduate in China and master’s degree program at Mizzou. After her master’s degree was completed, she stayed at Mizzou to work in CAFNR in the lab of Bongkosh Vardhanabhuti, an associate professor of food science, and realized she wanted to change course.

“I worked as a lab technician for Dr. V,” Wang said, “and I realized the beauty of food science. I wanted to change people’s lives through the science of food.”

Wang recently completed her Ph.D., and is now working at Bunge, an agribusiness industry leader, where she helps develop new plant-based foods.

Read more from the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources

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