In a NAIT Baking classroom, Maynard Kolskog (Cooking ’82) removes a small silver tub of ice cream from a freezer and wrestles off the plastic lid. The Culinary Arts instructor and food researcher improvised the treat using dairy solids left over from clarifying butter. He grabs a spoon and digs in, tasting thoughtfully.
“It’s not bad,” says Kolskog, pleased. “Especially with the butter. It gives it a nice caramel flavour. But that barley fits right in.”
The grain is the tip-off that this is no ordinary ice cream. Kolskog’s experimental dessert is a result of a partnership between the University of Alberta and NAIT.
In summer 2015, the schools joined to find new uses for protein extracted from barley, lentils and other Western Canadian crops with limited local markets. It’s applied research that could boost Alberta’s value-added agricultural industry and improve economic opportunities for local farmers, processors, manufacturers and retailers.
Researchers believe that the key to success is tasty, healthy alternatives for consumers. That’s where Kolskog comes in, having been given complete creative freedom by Darren Walkey, business director for the university’s crop protein and science program, which counts Kellogg’s, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson and other multinationals among its clients.
“Our expertise lies strongly in processing and ingredient development,” says Walkey, Kolskog’s protein supplier. “[Our food scientists] don’t have ideas about presentation or flavour profiles or necessarily what the public wants.”
For Kolskog, who introduced molecular gastronomy to NAIT students, the work has involved more than just sneaking wholesome ingredients into sweet treats. Combining components such as protein extracts to produce something palatable, let alone tasty, is as much science as it is art. “I like the challenge,” says Kolskog. “I like the problem-solving end of it.”
Walkey appreciates the diligence, which has already produced cake, doughnuts and muffins using barley and lentil protein.
Among the pinnacles of achievement for their current work, however, may be a vegan version of that barley ice cream – no milk, no eggs – a possible entry point into a market worth $1.75 billion in the U.S. alone. For this, Kolskog tried his impromptu recipe with soy instead of dairy and combined lentil protein with natural gums to simulate eggs. A prototype proved promising.
“It’s very good,” says Walkey. “[It’s] very close to the mouthfeel of a dairy-based ice cream.”
The success of the partnership – which is positioned to place products made with barley and lentil protein in stores as early as next year – hinges entirely upon the quality of that sensory experience.
Until then, Kolskog will keep tweaking until he’s happy with his recipes, and Walkey will continue to trust the chef’s recommendations.