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May 20, 2002

Purdue students brew up idea for freeze-dried beer spice

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – For those who can't get enough of the flavor of beer, two Purdue University students have just the thing: beer spice.

The non-alcoholic, freeze-dried beer isn't intended to make instant beer as simply as instant tea, but rather as an ingredient in foods.

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"It could be used for dips, sauces, in breads or batters, or sprinkled on popcorn or potato chips," says co-developer Michelle Kelly.

Kelly, of Westerfield, Ohio, and Luke Meyers, of Fort Wayne, Ind., both 2002 spring graduates, developed the product as their senior research project for the class Agricultural and Biological Engineering 556: "Food Plant Design and Economics."

The course is taught by Martin Okos, professor of agricultural and biological engineering, who says the class is meant to be the capstone experience for students in the food process engineering program.

"The senior project gives the students a chance to bring together all of the things they've learned in their classes here," Okos says. "I tell the students to act as if I were their manager and I asked them to come up with a new product. Then they take it all the way from the concept to actually developing the final product and the process to manufacture it."

Freeze-dried beer has been developed before for non-commercial uses, but this is thought to be the first freeze-dried beer developed as a spice.

So far the students have created freeze-dried versions of both light and dark beers. The lager version is a cream color and the dark beer powder is a darker shade of brown.

"The idea started as kind of a joke, but then Professor Okos said he liked the concept because it was original," Kelly says. "As we researched it we were surprised to find out that no one had developed it before."

The students devised a multistep process to freeze-dry the beer. Working in Purdue's food process pilot plant, the students first removed part of the moisture from the beer in a process similar to that used to create frozen orange juice concentrate. Then they used a food freeze dryer to get the crystalline powder.

The students encountered a few missteps along the way, but Okos says that was to be expected. "Dehydrating beer can be complicated, but I kept telling the students it could be done," he says.

Although scientific taste testing has yet to be conducted, the students say the informal consensus is that the dehydrated beer tastes even better than the real thing.

"The flavor is more concentrated and sweeter than regular beer," Kelly says. "It's sweeter because the process leaves the sugars but removes the alcohol and water."

"It was surprising how close the flavor is to that of real beer," Okos says.

Meyers says fellow students like the idea of beer as a spice.

"They see it as something that would be pretty useful," he says. "Although there were one or two who said they'd rather just drink it."

According to Okos, eventually soldiers or hikers could use the product to make beer in the field.

"To reconstitute the beer you would need three components," Okos says. "You would need carbonated water, and alcohol in addition to the freeze-dried beer. It might be possible to encapsulate the carbon dioxide and alcohol so that it would not have to be added separately, but more work on that needs to be done."

Kelly and Meyers both graduated May 11. Kelly received a bachelor of engineering degree in agricultural and biological engineering. Meyers graduated with a double major in agricultural and biological engineering and biochemistry.

Despite the excitement, Kelly herself has yet to hoist a mug of powdered cheer.

"I don't like the taste of beer," she admits.

Writer: Steve Tally, (765) 494-9809; tally@aes.purdue.edu

Sources: Martin Okos, (765) 494-1211; okos@ecn.purdue.edu

Michelle Kelly, mkelly3@purdue.edu

Luke Meyers, meyersl@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, bforbes@aes.purdue.edu; http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/AgComm/public/agnews/

Note to journalists: Michelle Kelly and Luke Meyers graduated May 11 and are available via e-mail only.

PHOTO CAPTION:
Purdue University students Michelle Kelly and Luke Meyers hoist a shaker of freeze-dried beer in the Purdue food science pilot plant. The students say the powdered beer could be used as a spice in sauces or batters, or sprinkled on popcorn or potato chips. Kelly and Meyers created the new spice for their senior research project in food process engineering. (Purdue Agricultural Communication Service Photo by Mike Kerper)

A publication-quality photograph is available at ftp://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/okos.beer.jpeg.


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