Whether fueling the body or helping fight disease, food has an enormous impact on our lives. So it should come as no surprise that there's a science devoted to it.
The food science industry is rapidly expanding as it strives to produce enough food for the booming global population. There are now more than seven billion mouths to feed. And 870 million people worldwide suffer from malnutrition. Food scientists seek solutions to challenges like these.
So if you're interested in food (and not only when it’s clamped between your teeth), why not consider a course in food science?
Where could a food science course lead?
A food science course could lead to a veritable feast of jobs, from creating new food products to microbiological testing, from shelf-life studies to package design.
The food supply chain is extensive and there are jobs at every stage, spanning farming, manufacture, retail and catering.
Farming is a large economy in the UK and it is vital to the world’s social and economic development. Food scientists might choose to work within this sector, ensuring that fresh produce arrives safely on the market.
The food and drink manufacturing industry is vast. Extensive biotechnological research goes into all the food and drink you see in your favourite bakery, butchers or bar. If you are interested in how these products are made, you could direct your career towards this sector.
You might prefer to apply your food science knowledge to marketing, sales and advertising, or retail, catering and bar work.
Or you may choose to take advantage of a number of opportunities opening up in education. Government initiatives encouraging children to develop a healthier understanding of food have created a demand for food science teachers in secondary schools.
As a food scientist, you may choose to work in the health sector as a nutritionist or dietitian.
With novel technological advances and the rapidly growing global demand for healthy food products, there are excellent employment opportunities in food science all over the world.
What do you do on a food science course?
On a food science course you study chemistry, biology and mathematics in the context of the modern food industry. You cover a range of topics such as food safety, nutrition, food factory design, product development, sustainability and food ethics.
Courses may be a mixture of lectures, seminars and lab classes. They might even include small-scale food manufacture and tours of food manufacturing sites.
A university degree course typically lasts three years. As with most science-based degrees, in the final year you will be expected to undertake a research project. You may also have the opportunity to take a year-long industry placement, which offers you the opportunity to develop a range of skills and improve your employment prospects.
How can you choose the right course for you?
Before choosing a food science course, find out exactly what the course involves. There will be a course out there that best fits your goals, so make sure you find it.
If you are keen to manufacture food products or to spend time in a particular environment - the Cadbury's chocolate factory, say - make sure the course provides this opportunity.
What kind of person do you need to be?
To do a food science course you must first and foremost be interested in chemistry and biology. Don't forget, all food science courses are steeped in science.
You must also be:
· excited and intrigued by the world of food, including its production, manufacture and policy.
· eager to improve the health and well-being of future generations.
· prepared to spend a certain amount of time in a lab. Most courses will involve some practical work in labs.
· a good teamworker because a lot of food science research requires collaboration between scientists from many different fields.
Food science overlaps molecular gastronomy!
Molecular gastronomy uses chemistry and physics to transform ingredients into novel and bizarre forms.
Some chefs, like Heston Blumenthal, are combining unusual tastes, textures, smells and even sounds to give the eating experience a multi-sensory dimension. Heston Blumenthal has created such strange meals as bacon and egg ice cream and snail porridge.
A few molecular gastronomy techniques…
Spherication. This techniques transforms almost any juicy food into tiny balls that look like caviar. To do this, you have to mix sodium alginate with a liquid, then let the mixture drip into a solution of calcium salt and water.
Fizzing. If you mix bicarbonate soda with any acid, then add water, it fizzes. So you can make a range of tongue-tingling food.
Sous vide. Heston Blumenthal is an advocate of a cooking method known as sous vide. Using this technique, meat or fish is sealed in vacuum packed bags and cooked in a water bath for several hours on a very low heat. The fat doesn't melt and the meat retains its full flavour and juices.
By Nick Kennedy