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Industry impressed by innovative new food products

19 April 2018
Students redefine U.S. and Aussie snack classics using macadamias
Food and agribusiness students Sarah Dawes and Andrew Dong recently competed in a nation-wide food product development competition. Now they return applying their skills (and love of macadamias) to Anzac biscuits.

The Australian Macadamias Innovation Challenge is a competition on the hunt for novel new packaged food products that incorporate Australia's native nut. The first of its kind world-wide, the challenge seeks to provide food manufacturers with ideas to bolster demand for Australian macadamias in line with skyrocketing supply.

The competition saw entries from both students and food professionals competing across three categories - baked goods, snack products and ice-cream. Ten finalists were selected to travel to Byron Bay to compete live, with Sarah and Andrew's golden organic macadamia bagel making the cut.

The original product idea came about whilst both students were completing an intensive subject within the food and agribusiness degree - New Product Development. Sarah and Andrew working in team with Clarice Altan and Alice Kelly initially created a vegetable bagel after they found out some alarming statistics.

"Only 8.3% of Australian adults consume five serves of vegetables a day and only half of Australians consume breakfast," says Sarah, "so I was definitely passionate about developing a product that could improve these statistics, and overall health."

"With a plain bagel recipe, we experimented with different proportions of sweet potato, carrot and pumpkin puree; as well turmeric for anti-inflammatory benefits.

"When we heard about the macadamia challenge, we substituted some of the plain flour with macadamia meal and topped the bagels with macadamia chunks; virtually using our original recipe.

"The competition proved to us that an unusual product addition (macadamias) may actually work, and even improve an existing snack.

"With the addition of macadamias, the vegetable bagel took on even more health benefits. Macadamia nuts are among the most nutritious nuts available and are full of healthy, heart-friendly monounsaturated fats, fibre, protein, and vitamins and minerals. The macadamias also improved the texture of the bagels, making them lighter and also giving them a subtle creamy, nutty taste."

Sarah Dawes and Andrew Dong competing in the Australian Macadamias Innovation Challenge

Travelling up the coast of NSW to participate in the finals, competitors were judged by four industry representatives, including staff from Brookfarm, Gelato Messina and Infinity Bakery.

"The product performed really well on the day," says Sarah.

"We had no major issues during cooking, and we could not have been happier with the end result. Unfortunately, we didn't win the team entry, but we came a close second."

"I felt the competition brought us one step closer to reality," says Andrew.

"At university, we learn about theory and are graded based on concepts and writing skills, while the judging criteria really focused on the commercialisation of the product, and that was our shortfall."

Winning $5000 and taking out first place in the team entry were Ashna Gobin and Leonardo Bohorquez who created crumbled candied macadamia nut ice-cream with cocoa nibs.

"The whole experience was incredible as we got to meet like-minded people, fantastic judges and even some macadamia growers," says Sarah.

Food and Agribusiness students have a number of opportunities to apply their course knowledge in real-world settings through other competitions and internship programs. All third-year students complete a compulsory 12-week placement with organisations like 4 Pines Brewery, Marley Spoon and Brookfarm.

Sarah for example, spent time at Harris Farm Markets as a Safety and Quality Insurance Intern, while Andrew went to Perfection Fresh where he learnt about every step in the food supply chain.

"The experience is so valuable because when you find a job you will likely be working in just one part of the supply chain, whereas the internship allowed me to discover what I did and didn't like," says Andrew.

Sarah Dawes and Andrew Dong competing together in the Australian Macadamias Innovation Challenge

The University of Sydney internship program is also invaluable for industry.

"We see this as great way to continue to challenge our thinking and give opportunities to those who want to learn," says Will Brook, General Manager at Brookfarm.

To extend their MasterChef experience, we asked Andrew and Sarah to whip up some Anzac biscuits ahead of Anzac Day, and they certainly delivered.

"Macadamias make the original recipe better," says Sarah. "The addition of nuts adds a nice crunchy texture to the biscuits, as well as giving it a subtle creamy flavour."

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