I grew up in Ohio and began my career in an academic role as an organic chemist – making the molecules that go into LCD displays. There were elements of the job I loved, for example looking at the breathtakingly beautiful liquid crystal patterns under the microscope; but eventually I decided it was time for a new challenge. So when a vacancy opened up at Corbion (then American Ingredients) back in 2003, I decided to take the plunge.
My focus is on the emulsifiers that we sell to several industries (both food and non-food) – ingredients and additives that improve the “sensory” qualities like the look, taste, and feel of finished products. Surprisingly there are quite a few similarities in the way that emulsifiers crystalize into different forms in much the same way that liquid crystals do. The big difference of course is that humans eat emulsifiers, which are combined in dough – which is full of ingredients that change at a molecular level - flour, yeast, eggs, etc. That's my challenge: studying how our emulsifiers behave inside the product, in production; and then making the necessary adjustments for large-scale production by our customers. The key word is consistency. Consumers expect each loaf to look, smell, and taste identical to the next one.
Our big “aha!” moment has been the development of the Ensemble emulsifier line, which replaces emulsifiers made from partially hydrogenated fats in bread products. As a business we began putting time, resources, and investment into this long before competitors – conducting major trials and spending a lot of time getting the sensory qualities (especially taste of course) just right. It's been a real labor of love but our work has paid dividends, and Ensemble is already becoming the gold standard. It's incredibly rewarding to see customers incorporating this product into often very complex baking processes without missing a beat in terms of both production and the quality of the end product.
In the first 13 years here I developed two or three new products. In the past two years I have developed six! It's been crazy but I wouldn't change it for anything. As a scientist I've enjoyed stepping outside the lab and working with new teammates. Science mustn't be done in a vacuum (even though we do use a vacuum in our work!). As for the future, I'm not just a scientist but also a science fiction fan. I'm more Star Trek than Star Wars: I have an optimistic view of the future and will continue to be fascinated by how such very small amounts of emulsifiers can have such a hugely positive impact on foods.