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Putting The Bite On A Mellower Mallow

New Zealanders’ voracious – and unique- passion for marshmallows has led to an unusual research project for University of Otago student Jennifer Edmond. Her quest was to find how to keep the tongue-tempting taste and texture of marshmallows fresher for longer, extending its shelf life beyond the existing 40 weeks.

And for a country billed as the world’s biggest consumers of more than 100 products containing the tempting treat, her findings may mean that the Easter egg lying forgotten in the kitchen cupboard could be just as fresh the following Easter.

Jennifer Edmond’s research was carried out at Dunedin’s Cadbury Confectionery, with funding from Technology New Zealand through its Technology for Industry Fellowships scheme. Although a small undergraduate project funded under the Scheme, the results have provided some big signposts to improving the company's understanding of the mellow characteristics of marshmallow.

“We wanted to find a way of measuring subtle changes and improvements in the marshmallow recipe and look at what impact that would have on its longevity,” says Cadbury Scientific Development Manager, Mike Crashley. “Marshmallow usually has a 40-week shelf life before the sugar begins to crystallise and the product starts to taste stale and lose its desirably soft, rubbery texture.”

But because marshmallow is not well studied internationally, there was little existing benchmark research and for Jennifer Edmond it was uncharted territory. Working on the research project for the honours part of her B.Sc degree, she had to reach her own conclusions on how and why different ingredients affect the quality and rate of sugar crystallisation.

Because marshmallow is 50% air and 50% sugar and gelatin, she looked at using different types of sugars to keep the product fresh. Significant changes were made to the recipe in the test lab, to measure extreme effects. Her research was validated both by scientific means as well as through a Cadbury Confectionery taste test panel, and Jennifer admits to some subjective taste testing of her own (‘they just popped into my mouth’).

Her findings provide the basis for the company to conduct a further two-year research project, and for Jennifer, it was ‘quite exciting to know I’ve pointed them in the right direction.’

“It helped us determine the best way to proceed with on-going research, with the ultimate aim of producing marshmallow that has a longer shelf life,” says Mr Crashley. “Consumers are less likely to buy a product that has significantly altered its characteristics since it was made.”

New Zealanders’ love of marshmallow (we consume more than anyone else in the world) has put Cadbury’s Dunedin operations to the top of the marshmallow world, despite the company having a research centre in Reading (UK).

“In Dunedin our prime R&D focus is on new product development, so it was valuable to be able to bring in a researcher dedicated to looking at another aspect, that of extending the shelf life of an existing product,” he says. “This will be of particular benefit as new ‘best before’ legislation comes into force.”

Cadbury also has a strong relationship with the food technology faculty at the University of Otago, but this undergraduate project is the first the company has attempted with Technology New Zealand assistance.

The Technology for Industry Fellowship scheme assists students as well as experienced researchers to apply scientific research skills in business. It also helps develop links between industry and research institutions.

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