Photo Courtesy of Idaho Milk Processors Association

Belen Vila, grad, Jiyu Zhu, MPS ’16, doctoral student Michelle Duong and Linran Wang ’16 win $10,000 at an Idaho competition.

August 24, 2016

Cornell Students Win Top Prize for Inventing New Yogurt

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Four Cornell food science students won the grand prize of $10,000 at the Idaho Milk Processors Association competition on Aug. 15 for their original beverage Yojito.

The team consisted of doctoral student Michelle Duong, Belen Vila, grad, Jiyu Zhu, MPS ’16 and Linran Wang ’16. Vila described Yojito as a drinkable yogurt with mint-flavored popping boba made from fruit juice concentrate or flavor extracts — the beverage’s “fun factor,” she said.

“These little spheres will remain sturdy until you decide to pop them in your mouth like a pocket of air on a sheet of bubble wrap, releasing with it a burst of sweet and flavorful fruit juice,” Vila said.

Duong added that the popping boba add “textural contrast” and a “surprising flavor element” to consumers’ experience.

The team wanted to create a product familiar to most consumers but at the same time different from others on the market, according to Vila. The inspiration for Yojito was the “refreshing and summery mojito — the perfect combination of lime and mint,” Vila said.

Vila explained that Yojito was created using sustainable methods, reducing its environmental impact.unnamed

“By utilizing acid whey, a by-product of Greek yogurt production, and whey protein, a sub-product of cheese production, this beverage re-utilizes two ingredients which typically go to waste,” Vila explained.

Alan Reed, competition chair, expressed his excitement for the creativity that emerges at each competition.

“The growing innovation these students bring to bear each year is incredible, and it’s very exciting for our industry,” Reed said in the release. “Now we’re seeing true innovation where the students are developing revolutionary new food product concepts that contain at least 51 percent dairy ingredients.”

Vila said the one challenge the team faced was increasing the stability of the popping boba.

“We employed reverse spherification instead of the standard method and formulated the popping boba in varying concentrations of calcium lactate solution to increase its elasticity and stability,” she explained.

While the product was a success at the competition, Vila said the team does not have any immediate plans to further market the products.

“Most of us are still working on our graduate degrees,” Vila said. “Although we [would] like to have startups, we still have to complete our studies.”