Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Beer yogurt... I'd vote for that!

Food-science students compete for our favour

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Despite the crisis in Ukraine, the search for that missing jetliner and the unseasonably freezing weather, I still find myself bubbling over with feelings of warmth and joy and hope for the future of democracy.

I suspect I am experiencing this epiphany because, for the sixth straight year, I was invited to stuff my face for free as one of the expert judges at the Great Manitoba Food Fight.

As most of you know by now, this is the annual pre-spring competition at The Forks wherein teams of budding young food scientists from the faculties of agriculture and human ecology at the University of Manitoba duke it out to see who has created the most delicious, marketable and off-the-wall new food product.

On Friday afternoon, six teams of gluten-hating young persons pitched their new state-of-the-art products and provided free tasting samples to a crackerjack team of seasoned judges consisting of Judy Wilson, director of marketing and communication at the Asper School of Business; Dave Shambrock, executive director of the Manitoba Food Processors Association; and, as you have already deduced, me.

What with being middle-aged persons, we judges found ourselves deeply moved that, once again, the youthful contestants had whipped up food products jam-packed with fibre and antioxidants and probiotic bacteria intended, as far as we could tell, to prevent our gastrointestinal systems from going into reverse-thruster mode.

I literally had tears in my eyes, because when I was a shallow university student, I did not spend much time thinking about the digestive systems of older persons because I was far too busy thinking about methods for obtaining beer and how to make functional furniture out of old pizza boxes.

Last year, the competitors were forced to pluck a random ingredient out of a hat and build a food item around it, but this time all bets were off. "They were allowed to let their imaginations run wild," organizer Crystal Jorgenson told me before the battle kicked off.

The first "wild" thing we judges popped into our expert mouths were little balls of bread the size and shape of golf balls that had been made with some gluten-free substance called cassava flour.

The students said the cassava is a sort of starchy tuberous root grown in subtropical regions and is stuffed to the gills with carbohydrates. So, if I understand them correctly, the cassava root is almost identical to myself, a middle-aged newspaper columnist whose starchy body is 99 per cent carbohydrates.

Like pretty much everything we tasted, these fluffy little balls of goodness were delicious. Another highlight was a concoction called Yogurt with Wine Jelly, which sounds odd but was difficult to stop eating.

The yogurt team said their initial idea was to make a "beer yogurt," but then they got side-tracked by the health benefits of wine, which made me sad because, as I told the kids, a beer-based yogurt would make breakfast the highlight of the day for the vast majority of the world's men, including myself.

We were also impressed by products such as Star Power Gluten-free Cookies -- "The idea is when you buy star-powered cookies, you'll be fuelling yourself for success," one student explained -- and Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate, pitched as a beverage to make you feel "warm, comfortable and at home."

Not that we judges did not ask hard-hitting questions. "The thing I missed was the baby marshmallows," judge Judy Wilson told the peanut butter hot chocolate team. "Where were the baby marshmallows?"

In the end, the big winner was the Breakfast Lentil Bars, a soft-baked bar containing green and red lentils and all sorts of fruit.

The students' concept was that too many breakfast bars are hard and crunchy. "When you eat them, your jaw muscles get very tired," is what they said in their pitch, and it's hard to argue with logic like that.

Noted Judge Judy: "It's ready to go. It tastes fantastic and it's got all sorts of Manitoba products in there. There's no c--p in it, and you can quote me on that!"

Kelly Gogela, a member of the winning team, was proud their product had thrown lentils into the limelight.

"Lentils are a good thing," she chirped. "They're really good for you. They'll make you better in the long run."

Which is why I'm feeling so warm and fuzzy about the future. How can you be pessimistic when you can start the day with (bad word) lentils and, fingers crossed, a yogurt made with beer might be brewing just down the road.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 17, 2014 A2

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