Have you ever made a decision to eat healthier or all of a sudden had to go on a gluten-free diet, but tried gluten-free foods that just tasted bland and dry? Well, Amber Jack, a 24-year-old, food science second-year graduate student at LSU, created a top-secret gluten-free muffin recipe that actually tastes good and is still healthy.
Jack was born in Houston, but came to the United States recently from Singapore. She has traveled and moved all over the world and grew up exposed to various cultures. Because she was always on the go, she fell in love with food and getting to experience different types of food. Her love for food is so vast that it grew to become her passion, not only in her personal life but also in her educational and career life.
Jack is currently working on obtaining her master’s degree in food science/nutrition with a concentration in sensory science and is a research assistant at the LSU AgCenter.
She has always considered herself a bit of a health nut and a chef whiz. She started researching statistics on healthy eating and found that many foods were processed with a lot of chemicals and substances that can make a person physically addicted to food. She discovered that plant-based diets are the healthiest way to go and started diving into cooking all sorts of vegan foods.
Through her research, she learned that a lot more people discovered they were gluten-intolerant than they thought they were. Jack wanted to create something that everyone enjoyed eating.
“On my own, I started to try to make gluten-free pancakes and gluten-free muffins for breakfast foods. Then, I decided to make it even more challenging by adding another variable – lowering the sugar intake.” she says.
As many can imagine, the process of mimicking a non-gluten free muffin (regular muffin), as well as reducing grams of sugar to make it appealing in taste and health, can be an extremely difficult task.
“When you don’t have that gluten in the muffin, it’s really dry and brittle because gluten is good at absorbing moisture and retaining water,” Jack said. “They just don’t taste good and wouldn’t have the same texture as conventional baked goods. Also, a lot of sugar substitutes or sugar-free items usually have an aftertaste that normally consumers don’t like very much, which my product doesn’t have.”
Through the use of different flavors, Jack said she was able to make a muffin that has a similar texture and profile of a muffin with gluten. But this discovery didn’t come without many trial and error runs.
Jack didn’t have a science background, instead holding a degree in sports management. She wanted to pursue a master’s in food science and went through several experiments and prototypes dealing with gluten free products before she began the process of creating her muffins.
“My professor kind of helped led me in that area according to today’s trends, such as food and health,” Jack said. “We did my study at LSU’s Sensory and Innovation Lab, where I came to find my recipe by using previous recipes in my own life. I also looked at many publications of research articles to help develop my product. We are even continuing to refine it to help optimize the recipe with different flavors and possibly a supplement of high fiber.”
Having people taste her food was one of the most fun parts of the entire process of her recipe she says.
“My lab mates are very honest. I feel like they not only critique the taste, but also the aroma and the components of it. It’s almost like Top Chef,” Jack said. “That was the best part of it because I made an adventure out of it. Another fun part was trying to find the combination and seeing what fruits worked with the muffin the best.”
Jack loves the idea of being able to combine cooking, science, and food all in one and says companies like that she a background in sports management and business coupled with an interest in food science because that education could “benefit and promote sales in athletes’ diets.”
“I hope that one day a big company sees my story and sees that I’m very proactive and hardworking, and allow me to help them reformulate products into sugar-free and gluten-free recipes,” she says.