The biggest challenge with this project is understanding how United States consumers would accept bugs being used in food products. The initial reaction from people is currently disgust but changing that narrative will take time, research, and a lot of trial and error in order to first, make a desirable product and also promote the environmental benefits of adopting bug farming. Rovai is currently experimenting with harvesting mealworms under different growth conditions. The team has also considered crickets but there is one caveat— they jump!
“If you think about it, lobster was the bug of the ocean, shrimp was the bug of the ocean. So I think it's finding how people will adapt to these types of products. At the end of the day, if we can deliver better nutrition, or more sustainable nutrition to humans, in a transparent way, I believe it will work,” said Dr. Lammert.
Currently, the research team is in the very early stages of this project looking at the different functional properties of various insects and how they might be able to use them in food. They are also conducting a lot of consumer insights by looking at who could potentially be an adopter of these food products and be willing to implement them into their diet. The future of this project is still unknown but according to both Dr. Lammert and Rovai, a potential business venture could come out of it.
Photo by Jovana Askrabic
One way Dr. Lammert brings hands-on industry experience to her students is through a Sensory Fee-For-Service project. Outside food companies use this program in order to have their products validated with sensory panels and other consumer insight research. Companies want to validate their products in order to make sure they are meeting consumer taste preferences.
A student pours gelatin into sample cups to later be tested.
This gives opportunities for students to conduct tests and research that are done in the “real world” and on top of that, they also get paid for their work.
A student is seen testing samples and inputing data.
“When [students] go work for a company, they'll have seen what questions are asked, they'll know how to set up a test, they'll know how to design and execute a test, analyze data, and more importantly, think on the fly when they run into an issue,”
Dr. Lammert said when talking about the importance of the program for her students.
Samples are stored at room temperature in order to set.
Sensory evaluations include tests that provide information on the five senses: taste, smell, sight, sound, and feel. They are important because they help a company determine what consumer preferences are at the time and how they can make their products more desirable. Much like in agricultural communications, sensory is crucial in relaying what the general consumer has to say to scientists who are making all of the technical decisions.
“The consumer doesn't use the same language as the scientist. So, as a sensory scientist, you have to be able to transform what they're saying, in a way that's easy for the scientist to understand and implement,” said Dr. Lammert.
Dr. Lammert grew up in Michigan where she attended junior college and worked at Dow Chemical in a food lab where her love for food science first sparked.
“My mom always said to get a job where you feel guilty taking your paycheck every week because you're having so much fun doing it. So I did,” said Dr. Lammert.
Her experiences at Dow Chemical propelled her to attend Michigan State University where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Food Science. From there, she went on to earn her Masters in Food and Nutrition with a focus in Sensory and her PhD in Food Science with a focus in Food Chemistry from the University of Illinois.
In recent years, Dr. Lammert has also published research manuscripts for dairy science, food neophobia (avoidance of new foods) in children, and looking at different ways to measure consumer sensory responses to berries.
Dr. Lammert’s energy lights up any room and her excitement for her students shines through as she talked about these various projects. Her students admire her passion for the work she does and values that she is always pushing them to achieve great things.