Please tell us about yourself

Ayna first found her love for food when she was 14, through creating bakes on her cheat day as a junior tennis professional. This new-found passion led her to travel the Asia-Pacific region starting with Savor Chocolate School in Australia, and doing stints at places like Room 4 Dessert and 2am Dessert Bar. Ayna is currently a graduating senior in Food Science at The Ohio State University and is passionate about creative ways to make food sustainable, nutritious, and delicious.

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How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

My name is Ayna Arora and I am a graduating senior studying food science with a minor in Entrepreneurship. As a former pastry chef and trained chocolatier, I started my degree program hoping to deliver amazing food and great experiences to people on a larger scale. Through my journey, I’ve led and won product development competitions, and have been part of the founding team of a food company, Banzo Bites. While working on developing products, I was intrigued to learn more about formulating food in a more scientific and controlled manner, and thus ended up in Dr. Rafael Jimenez-Flores’ Dairy Lab to work on a formulation for a beverage made from two dairy by-products!

How does your work benefit the community?

An estimated 8.4 billion pounds of acid-whey are produced each year during Greek yogurt and cheese production. However, the industry is struggling to find a use given its undesirable flavors and lack of feasible uses. Another by-product, buttermilk powder that is produced from the buttermilk from butter churning, is high in protein. My research project focused on methodologies to improve the flavor of acid-whey while using buttermilk to create a palatable beverage. Not only would the beverage provide for a solution to food manufacturers, it would be targeted to children as a higher nutrition offering relative to other high-sugar milk beverages and fruit juices.

Tell us about your research

With the end goal of developing a beverage that contained acid-whey with fruity flavors, I worked on developing and evaluating 3 methodologies to treat acid-whey to remove the off-flavor volatiles as much as possible. The addition of buttermilk powder to the acid-whey improves the texture and flavor, forming a beverage base to which fruit purees can be added to create different flavors.

We conducted ranking tests with untrained panelists to determine the most appropriate processing methodology. These panelists rated the membrane filtration treated acid-whey as the sample with least amount of off-flavor, which also complements the scale-up feasibility of this method. Membrane filtration is commonly used in the beverage and cheese-making industry and this suggested use would be an easier integration for a manufacturer compared to the other two methodologies we tested.

The research further continued with the addition of fruit purees and sugar to create a beverage formula. The next steps continuing this research are to conduct a scale-up trial with a pilot-plant size membrane filtration system at OSU’s Food Processing Pilot Plant. Along with Dr. Jimenez, I had two lab members also guiding me through this project: Dr. Joana Ortega-Anaya (postdoc) and Alba Mayta-Apaza (graduate student). I am incredibly grateful for my mentors that not only guided me through my research project, but also taught me invaluable life skills pertaining to problem solving and project management. Being able to understand the research process first-hand has made me a much more informed food technologist and has made me a better communicator knowing the challenges that come with research.

What is the USP of Banzo Bites?

We quickly found out that our friends and family were not the only ones with dietary restrictions- there are over 26M Americans with a food allergy, and healthier and mindful snacking has been on the rise for the past decade. Such a huge variety of restrictions in the same crowd makes it difficult to meet everyone’s needs while including everyone- we wanted to solve this issue with Banzo Bites. We set out to thoughtfully design Banzo Bites so as to be a delicious snack that was simply allergen free. And we ran several taste testings to make sure that people did in fact love it. 

We took out all the top 8 allergens, and replaced them with nourishing ingredients such as chickpeas and sunflower seeds to reimagine snacking as you know it- why only have healthy when you can have healthy and indulgent?