Courtesy of Melissa Golden/The New York Times

Gelatin is a protein that forms weak bonds with water and allows the thickening of liquid solutions, causing candy to be chewy.

March 8, 2023

Cornell Food Science Students Experience the Science of Confections Three Years Later

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Senior students in Food Science 1102: Leadership and Career Skills in Food Science, gathered for a dessert making event in December 2022 — an event that was scheduled to take place during their freshman year prior to the COVID-19 campus shutdown during the Spring 2020 semester.  

The confections event is part of the FDSC 1102 course, which allows students to apply topics learned in food science classes into real world scenarios, such as preparing candy. 

Prof. Julie Goddard, food science, who teaches the career skills class, explained the importance of the confections event for food science students to take their freshman year.

“Few people who come in are excited about 700 chemistry classes, but in this event, we link the sciences that drew you to the major,” Goddard said. “It’s also about team building and getting to know different communication styles that can only be done in group learning activities.” 

The teams worked on two creations, vegan gummy worms and butterfingers, which exposed students to key ingredients such as baking soda and pectin. 

For example, students used the leavening agent baking soda when making butterfingers, which reacts with acid to release carbon dioxide gas bubbles, causing the cookie layer in butterfingers to rise. 

Meanwhile, gummy worms are chewy, non-crystalline candy that lack a defined form and typically use gelatin — a protein that forms weak bonds with water — to allow the thickening of liquid solutions. In the confections event, however, students created vegan gummy worms by substituting gelatin with pectin, a fiber that is also used to thicken and gel foods. 

“Pectin is a carbohydrate found mostly in raw fruit and, when added with sugar, creates the structural integrity and texture in gummy worms,” said Dane Allen ’23, a student in the class.

The senior class used these ingredients in making gummy worms and butterfingers to demonstrate how much they had grown throughout nearly four years in the food science program.

“I didn’t have concerns about fire, boiling sugar, safety and lab techniques,” Goddard said. “The students also now have experience communicating with professionals and know how to reserve the space and work with reimbursements.” 

As the senior class graduates, the freshman class of 2026 will take part in the confections event in May, which Goddard will continue to lead.